Grass Valley no longer requires sidewalks on both sides of some streets
February 19, 2018
Grass Valley now allows housing developers to forego building sidewalks on one side of the street, a change they hope will incentivize more housing in the city.
"I kind of revert back to my childhood, where I played football, baseball and basketball in the street," City Manager Tim Kiser told the City Council last week. Kiser suggested sidewalks may not be necessary for all new housing complexes so long as streets are made safer and more accessible to families for recreation.
According to Kiser, the city has approved designs for more than 900 housing units that haven't yet been built.
City officials, he said, are reviewing Grass Valley's building requirements to see which restrictions can be loosened to reduce costs.
Kiser and other city staff members are asking, "What kinds of things can the city do to spur some of this development but maintain the character we have in our community?" he said.
The City Council approved Kiser's proposed change in sidewalk requirements last week in an effort to work toward that goal.
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"The infrastructure costs are really what puts this out of touch for some people. … Anything we can do to encourage some development to come into the community is a good thing," said Council Member Lisa Swarthout.
For developments of 40 units or less, builders can now skip the sidewalk on one side of the street, as long as they create a walkable trail — either a loop or a connection to another trail system — within the subdivision.
Those developers are also required to install speed bumps, raised intersections or dips in order to make the street safer.
Some community members are critical of the change.
Ana Acton, executive director of FREED, a disability and aging resource center, said sidewalks are crucial for people with disabilities.
"You need to provide access for people," she said. "It just doesn't make sense to skimp on that."
Matthew Coulter, a Grass Valley resident, expressed concern about Kiser advocating for kids playing in the street.
"In our day and age, most people are on their cell phones or multi-tasking while driving," Grass Valley resident Matthew Coulter told the City Council. "I wouldn't recommend anyone's child playing in the street at this point."
Mayor Howard Levine disagreed.
"I'm not as fearful of getting run over," he said. "There's a very great possibility. But I walk downtown a lot. And I personally prefer to walk in the street and feel really comfortable walking in the street. It's just a feeling that I get that makes you feel more neighborly."
Chuck Durrett, with McCamant and Durrett Architects, said the city's head is in the right place when it comes to making development easier.
"But there are bigger fish to fry than the sidewalk," he said.
Durrett suggested the city create a working group with local developers and architects to weigh in on changes that could make building easier and more cost effective.
"It takes a lot of small moves to reduce the cost of housing," Durrett said.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4231.