City Council members are praising the revamped sidewalk ordinance as one that promises “sidewalks to everywhere.” But some builders complain requiring them to construct sidewalks in front of new homes only leads to “sidewalks to nowhere.”

The city’s map on where sidewalks are planned to go. (City of Brookhaven)

Last month the council approved the revised sidewalk ordinance including a brand new and comprehensive map that outlines where sidewalks are in the city and where they are planned to go.

“The vision for the city has long been sidewalks to everywhere and this is a terrific step in the right direction,” Councilmember Linley Jones said after the April 24 vote approving the revised sidewalk ordinance.

The new map incorporates the city’s comprehensive plan, the Ashford-Dunwoody corridor study, the bike and pedestrian plan and last mile connectivity plan to show how the city plans to connect neighborhoods together.

“The update ties all those planning documents together,” Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin said in an interview.
As part of the revised ordinance, builders are required to pay $50 per linear foot to avoid building a sidewalk. Funds from this sidewalk fund will be used by the city to fill in sidewalk gaps. No variances are allowed under the new ordinance as well.

Two home builders are threatening possible legal action against the city, though, after they purchased an abandoned home at 1899 Dresden Drive and learned they would have to build a 10-foot wide sidewalk in front of the home as part of the bike-pedestrian plan along the road in the middle of a busy retail and restaurant area.

“They say we have to put in a 10-foot path and a 2-foot grass strip, and in order to do that we have to put in a retaining wall,” said Bradley Hall, a general contractor with Southern Pines Homes out of North Carolina.

They also say the revised ordinance would make them cut down a heritage oak tree in the front yard.

“I’ve researched this with all the council and city staff and they all confirmed we also have to take down the tree. It’s going to definitely make the yard look odd,” he said.

Ruffin said this was not the case. These particular builders submitted plans to the city before the revised ordinance was adopted and can pay into the sidewalk fund to not build the sidewalk. Ruffin said they can also build the sidewalk around the tree. If they elect to build the sidewalk, there is some administrative flexibility to navigate around obstacles, such as a tree, as long as the sidewalk is still built to code specifications, she said.

But Hall said paying $50 a linear foot into the sidewalk fund would cost him $30,000 for the 80 linear feet in front of this house. Sidewalks can be built for considerably less than $30,000, he said, but in this instance a retaining wall is needed as well as a guardrail because of the steep slope of the yard.

The builders are also upset because they say they cannot appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals under the revised ordinance and say they haven’t ruled out taking legal action against the city.

“This is literally a worthless sidewalk to nowhere,” said Brad Snellings, also with Southern Pines Homes. “All options are on the table.”

At the April 24 meeting, Councilmember Bates Mattison voted against the revised ordinance, saying he had a difficult time agreeing to require builders pay into a sidewalk fund without an appeals process.

“While we all agree sidewalks are important, this ordinance puts a burden on businesses. It’s a pass-through tax,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to fund construction of our sidewalk system by just taxing people.”

“We can’t do it all,” Councilmember Joe Gebbia said. “This benefits Brookhaven overall.”

Mayor John Ernst said he heard the concerns raised by home builders but said this plan is fair and “allows us to build sidewalks to everywhere.”

To view the map, click here.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.