Sidewalks soon to be required in Escanaba

ESCANABA — Escanaba property owners without sidewalks could soon be pulled into a project to bring walkability to all areas of the city.

“If a citizen right now wants to know, ‘Am I going to get swept up in this?’ ‘Go to your window,’ I would say, ‘Mr. Citizen, and look outside. If you don’t see a sidewalk there, yes, you are going to swept up into this,'” said Planning Commissioner Stephen Davis at Thursday’s planning commission meeting.

The city’s engineering department has determined that 8.75 miles of pathways are needed in the city to be completely connected. Of that total, 3.22 miles would be sidewalks.

Last May, a subcommittee was formed to evaluate the problem and create a plan to install the needed sidewalks. The resulting plan, which is slated to begin in the spring of 2022, would cost $850,000 over a period of five years. Residents affected by the sidewalk project would be placed on a five year repayment plan, where one-fifth of the project cost for their stretch of sidewalk would be collected annually on their tax bill.

The plan also includes changing the relevant ordinance to make notification of residents take place 135 days prior to the start of construction, which can only take place between April and December by statute. This significantly increases the notice time currently set at 22 days.

The planning commission voted to recommend the ordinance change to the city council and for the sidewalk committee to remain active to work on other connectability issues, such as connecting pathways to Bay College and Northern Lights YMCA.

In other business, the commission approved setting a public hearing on a 28-page reworked sign ordinance for the planning commission’s March meeting.

“We have a 28 page, small print, sign ordinance in Escanaba, and as a Libertarian-mindset, small-government person, this is ridiculous,” said Planning Commission Vice Chair James Hellerman. “This is just my public statement that this is ridiculous that we regulate people’s private property and free speech this much.”

Despite Hellerman’s views on the length of the ordinance, the commission discussed a variety of sign issues — such as the brightness of digital signs — which may need addressing in the future.

The commission also voted to approve a written statement to be sent to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in support of public hearings on permitted uses. The hearings have been common in Escanaba, but are discouraged by the Redevelopment Ready Communities program, through which the city is working towards recertification.


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