Council doesn’t move on P&Z sidewalk recommendation

Dennis Sharkey / Editor
Posted 9/16/23

Despite a recommendation from the Mexico Planning and Zoning Commission many on the city council don’t seem to agree with a change to the sidewalk ordinance.

Planning and Zoning met …

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Council doesn’t move on P&Z sidewalk recommendation


Despite a recommendation from the Mexico Planning and Zoning Commission many on the city council don’t seem to agree with a change to the sidewalk ordinance.

Planning and Zoning met earlier this month and voted unanimously to recommend a change to the city’s sidewalk ordinance. In 2018 the city updated its ordinances which included requiring sidewalks in all new developments. Recently at least two developers have expressed displeasure with having to install sidewalks and two have recently requested variances to the approval of plats that would exempt the sidewalks. The council turned down both requests despite the Planning and Zoning Commission approving both.

Mayor Vicki Briggs prefaced the discussion about sidewalks with a message to the folks who sit on the commission.

“I think as a council we rely heavily on their opinions and going over things with people,” Briggs said. “I would like to thank them. I know they spent a lot of time on this. I think we’re all interested in what the fairness of the situation is.”

Councilman Larry Webber often makes jokes at his own expense about his age but the point is he’s been around city government for decades. Webber said he’s spent time on the planning and zoning commission and feels their frustrations with having to revisit an issue already decided.

“You hate to take a recommendation from the planning and zoning commission to the council and the council says they don’t like it,” Webber said. “That just drives you crazy. I do appreciate what they’re going through.”

Councilman Chris Miller said he’s not completely against a change but on the other side, he doesn’t see where the city can continue to change the rules once a decision has been made to go a certain direction. Miller said the city has forced others to put in sidewalks.

“I just don’t know where it starts and stops,” Miller said. “I’m certainly not objectionable to this change but I’m concerned about all the exceptions we continue to make.”

Councilman Steve Haag said he needs a lot more time to think about the issue but presented a lot of reasons not to support the change including agreeing with Miller and Webber about precedent. 

“Mexico has no sidewalks and we struggle, we’re very limited,” Haag said. 

The commission suggested changing the ordinance to not require sidewalks when a subdivision’s sidewalk is more than 1,000 feet from the nearest sidewalk or if it’s next to a subdivision without sidewalks. Haag agreed with Miller and asked where it ends.

“When we said we want sidewalks in new subdivisions, that's an easy rule,” Haag said. “When we stop dropping exceptions are we going to come back here and start adding more exceptions when the next subdivision wants to be built because it’s built 995 feet or whatever it is and then want it adjusted?”

Haag, who is a school bus driver during the day, said he sees firsthand every day why sidewalks are needed in the city.

“I sometimes make out-of-my-way drops because I don’t want kids running up the street,” Haag said. “I can’t do anything about streets built in 1850 but I work in an industry where exceptions turn into 14 pages.”

Webber liked Haag’s historical context and asked what future generations think.

“I’m wondering if we make exceptions with sidewalks if some council down the road 20 or 30 years or what saying, ‘What’s the matter with those bozos in 2023? Why don’t they have a sidewalk here?’” Webber said. “I’m not opposed to it either but we need to find some way to work with it and see if there’s a way to keep everybody happy.”

Haag said he understands the complaints from developers but he also said the city needs to look at the bigger picture. He said to take a drive around some of the surrounding towns and see what they have that Mexico doesn’t.

“I struggle with the fact that we make decisions on, I’m going to go a little far out of the way, 1970 Mexico when it’s 2023,” Haag said. “I worry about that. I’m not trying to stand in anybody’s way, I’m not trying to halt production. When you go to a community that has sidewalks it’s nice. It’s nice to have those sidewalks and people aren’t walking in the streets.”

Councilman Chris Williams went even further and suggested that developers not receive any assistance from the city if they don’t want to put in sidewalks. Currently, the city has a program in conjunction with Audrain County that pays developers up to $10,000 per lot for expenses incurred in the construction of water and sewer systems. Williams thinks 1,000 feet is way too small of a distance.

“We’re going to help you with your deal but you won’t help us on sidewalks?” Williams asked. “You’re saving money by not getting the sidewalks. As a city we want sidewalks. We’ve already said we want sidewalks.”

The only member of the Planning and Zoning Commission to speak at the meeting was Jim Dye. Dye, who is a realtor, said the city has never required sidewalks and suggested it’s hurting development.

“I cannot remember any subdivision built in the 46 years I’ve been a realtor here where we had sidewalks,” Dye said. “It’s an extra cost when it’s never been anywhere else and it makes it difficult. We say we want housing but if we can’t make some adjustments maybe we don’t. That’s a hard, hard pill to swallow.”

Haag asked City Public Works Director Drew Williford if the main complaint by developers concerning sidewalks is the costs. Williford said there are other factors but all essentially come back to costs.

“It’s not just costs but if I were to give you the majority factor, sure,” Williford said. “A lot of sidewalks are hand-poured and that’s one of the biggest expenses when you’re talking about labor. That goes back to costs as well.”

Williford said any change would not affect the city’s comprehensive plan for trails and sidewalks. He said although there was some grey area in the city’s codes before concerning sidewalks there is no grey area if it involves the master plan. Williford said the master plan was developed from several studies and conversations with pedestrian users.

“We have an objective source to base a lot of this on,” Williford said. “That gives us some clarity internally to say, ‘Your subdivision is going to abutt a street that’s listed as part of the master trail plan therefore you’re going to have sidewalks here. There is no exception or variance allowed. We’re trying to find an objective balance.”