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After several months of consideration, the city of Bedford appears to be headed to adopting a sensible approach to its regulations regarding the construction of sidewalks.
This past May the issue hit the planning commission's radar when a potential business owner, Becky Stanley, protested the regulations that would have forced her to construct a sidewalk along the property on Independence Boulevard where the business was to be built. The problem: The sidewalk wouldn't have connected to any other existing sidewalk. In essence, it would have been a sidewalk to nowhere, at a cost of $70,000.
That just didn't make sense.
Stanley wanted to build a beauty and hair salon along the north end of Independence but the adjacent properties didn't have sidewalks, meaning that it wouldn't connect to any other walkways. In essence, the sidewalk wouldn't have served any purpose except to fulfill a city regulation.
And there were other problems with the city's regulations.
Prior to Stanley's request, other businesses had been exempted from the sidewalk requirement, meaning those businesses were under no obligation to comply with the city ordinance, which required new development in general business zones to build sidewalks. In addition, other businesses were constructed before the zoning was changed from industrial to general commercial ? hence, those businesses didn't have sidewalks either. The zoning along Independence is also not uniform, meaning some areas along the road, if developed, would not require a sidewalk to be built.
That initial discussion led the city's planning commission to set up a committee to study the issue.
The result appears to have the issue headed to a workable solution.
At last Thursday's meeting, the planning commission voted to amend the section regulating street requirements, including that which deals with sidewalks.
As amended, the section now states, in part, that when a lot being developed fronts on an existing street, the city requires for the construction of a sidewalk on that property if adjacent property on either side has an existing sidewalk. That change certainly makes sense. If a sidewalk already exists, the city has every right to require new development to comply. And for businesses like Becky Stanley's, in which no sidewalk previously existed on either side, this doesn't put an undue burden on the developer.
In addition to that amendment, the planning commission also added an amendment to the city ordinance covering streets, sidewalks and drainage. The new regulations give the city the ability to impose taxes or assessments on property owners to construct sidewalks on existing streets. This makes it fair for everyone.
As has been stated in an editorial earlier on the subject, sidewalks serve an important purpose to help move pedestrian traffic along. But Independence Boulevard isn't now populated by pedestrian neighborhood traffic and it probably never will be. Independence is likely to continue to serve as a connecting road from Va. 122 and Va. 221 to U.S. 460. And future development along the road will likely be more commercial than residential. The proposed changes to the city ordinance address these issues, both for development along Independence as well as in other areas.
City Council will consider the changes at a meeting later this month. Approving them is a fair way to address the issue, both for business owners and the city.