A developer is responsible for installation of sidewalks, no matter how large the property, Richmond’s Planning Commission decided after a lengthy debate Thursday evening.
The issue arose when three construction guarantee reviews for developer Allen Grant came before the board. If city inspectors verify that a development has been completed according to city codes, the board will release the bond a developer has posted to ensure compliance.
Two of Grant’s developments, Pavilion at Golden Leaf near Duncannon Lane and Professional Drive and Forbes Court off of the Robert R. Martin Bypass, met all requirements but one, inspectors said. Sidewalks had not been installed on the streets.
Grant’s attorney, Mike Eaves, said the developer believed he was not responsible for sidewalks at Pavilion at Golden Leaf because the large area was developed into several tracts, and tract owners traditionally have built their own sidewalks as part of their projects.
In addition, when the bond was written for the development in 2006, then-director of the planning Mike Roberts did not include sidewalks in his calculations of the cost estimate, indicating the developer was not expected to install them, Eaves said.
City Attorney Garrett Fowles said while the cost of the sidewalks wasn’t included in the bond, that doesn’t relieve the developer of the sidewalk installation requirement. The absence of a sidewalk estimate could mean that Roberts simply forgot to factor sidewalk installation in the bond total. Planning Director Jason Hart noted that the development’s final plat, signed by the developer and approved by the city, does include sidewalks.
“The subdivision performance bond that was posted guarantees the improvements reflected in the construction plans and the final plat that was approved,” Fowles said. “When you look at the final plat, it contains street details including sidewalks for the two streets.”
Eaves said the tract developers are being held responsible for sidewalk installation, and they will be completed as the tracts are sold. Fowles, however, argued that a land developer cannot delegate a required element of a final plat to another contractor
The commission was torn on the issue and could not agree on whether the bond should be released. Commissioner Dr. James Miller moved that the release be denied until Grant finishes the sidewalks. However, the motion died for lack of a second.
Commissioner Eugene Estelle moved that the bond be released, but his motion also died for lack of a second.
Miller then suggested the commission vote to send the issue to the city commission, which according to Fowles also has the authority to release bonds.
Miller, Estelle and Commissioner Lilian Abney voted for the third motion, with Commissioner Richard Thomas and Chair David Rush voting no (Commissioners Neen Wiggins and Mike Rice were absent). Thomas and Rush said the commission was not doing its job by passing the decision to the city commission.
The planners then switched their attention to Professional Drive, which had the same issue but on a smaller scale. The street contains 10 lots, six of which are empty. Of the four occupied lots, only two, including a Richmond fire station, have sidewalks, which were installed by the tract owners. The other two businesses, Casa Cafe and Aaron’s, have not built sidewalks.
Eaves argued that the businesses were responsible for sidewalk installation, but Hart said the right of way where the sidewalk should go still belongs to Grant, even if someone else bought the lot.
“Do we make someone improve something that’s not their property because he wants an insurance guarantee?” Eaves asked the commission.
Hart said sidewalks were an important access and safety element in developments. The commission would not approve a bond release if there was no road because people in vehicles need to access the area. It doesn’t make sense then, he continued, to limit the safe access of people who would rather walk or bike somewhere, which is why sidewalks are installed.
Grant, who was in the audience, said that Hart was creating a double standard because many streets built by the city also lack sidewalks. Hart argued that those streets were old, and that the city’s new developments, such as Sunset Avenue and Barnes Mill Road, included sidewalks for pedestrian access.
The commission then voted to deny Grant’s bond release on Professional Drive until the sidewalk is completed.
The board then voted to rescind their earlier decision to defer the Pavilion at Golden Leaf issue to the city commission and deny release of that bond release until sidewalks are completed.
In other business, the commission:
• Approved the final plat for Woodlawn Crossing at the Eastern Bypass and Big Hill Avenue as well as the site development plan for a Walgreens at 501 Caperton Drive. A representative of CMW Inc. said work on the store is expected to begin within 30 to 60 days.
• Approved Frazier Realty’s site development plan for a professional office building at 2028 Merrick Drive.