West Linn neighborhood sidewalks prompt debate
After Robinwood residents expressed distaste about the addition of a concrete sidewalk in front of the new Marylhurst School — or anywhere in the neighborhood for that matter — at an April West Linn City Council meeting, the school applied for a permit that would add a sidewalk in front of its property at the former New Life Church, 19915 Old River Road.
The frontage permit is currently under review by the City.
Despite concerns from residents and the Robinwood Neighborhood Association that a concrete sidewalk would diminish the rural and historic aesthetic of the Robinwood area, West Linn City Code requires concrete sidewalks adjacent to the street and in front of pedestrian facilities when a new building is constructed or substantially remodeled.
"As part of our public improvement permit process there's not really an opportunity to engage the public," said Amy Pepper, senior project engineer for the City. "We just apply the standards that come under the permit."
According to West Linn Deputy City Manager John Williams, West Linn sometimes requires that streets be improved with new construction, depending on the project.
"This (requiring sidewalks) was established to promote active living and improve safety for everyone. However, in the past year or two, the city council has been hearing from some neighborhoods that would like to retain their unimproved streets for visual and historic reasons," said Williams in an email. "At the same time, some neighborhoods are advocating for bigger (and) wider streets. What this all may lead to is different standards for different areas, or potentially different standards for different types of streets in certain areas."
City staff at the April council meeting said raised concrete sidewalks are standard at schools for safety reasons. There is also a raised concrete sidewalk in front of Cedaroak Park Primary in the Robinwood area, though most of the neighborhood does not have concrete sidewalks.
Because concrete is more smooth, durable and accessible than the alternative asphalt path suggested by residents, it better complies with the American Disabilities Act (ADA), which establishes standards for accessible design.
Lisa Clifton, Robinwood NA member, says she has heard runners say that asphalt is easier on the body than concrete, making it a preferred surface.
"There are areas in our neighborhood like on Cedaroak (Drive) near the school, there's a path there that's an asphalt path that's separated from the road by a planting strip. That's a nice alternative to the sidewalk," Clifton said.
Clifton, who's lived in Robinwood for about 20 years, said she understands that current city code requires there to be a concrete sidewalk in front of Marylhurst School. The Robinwood NA is in the process of updating its Neighborhood Plan, a document that gives the neighborhood a framework to achieve goals, to say it would prefer to have asphalt pathways in some areas.
The Robinwood NA said adding sidewalks detracts from the character of the neighborhood during the April council meeting and Clifton agrees.
She said asphalt provides a nicer aesthetic and doesn't look as "urban," adding that the neighborhood is filled with trees and vegetation.
Clifton worries that the neighborhood will lose trees if more concrete paths are installed, and that an asphalt pathway would be placed around the trees.
"It maintains a different character rather than the sidewalk," she said. "If one (sidewalk) had to be put in front of my house, some big trees would have to come down for sure."
Pepper assures residents that the City tries to work around the trees, but sometimes it's not possible.
Pepper said asphalt paths are commonly used for multi-use paths that connect neighborhoods. Asphalt is also used for trails and bicycling paths.
"The installation of a curb and gutter is really a component of the drainage system and protection of that drainage system," Pepper said, adding that roadside swales can be installed in West Linn instead of a curb and gutter sidewalk.
While Marylhurst School submitted its plans for a sidewalk, no decision on final designs have been made.
Williams said the Council has initially been open to the idea of different standards in different areas of the city.
"I think you can expect some additional conversation at the City Council level and certain advisory and neighborhood groups over the next half year to a year," Williams said. "We're working to finish a couple of other policy projects right now and then will probably be moving into that one this fall/winter."
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