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Tree to remain after Durango sidewalk fix

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

At Tuesday night’s Durango City Council meeting, a graceful way was found to deal with the tripping hazard from a damaged sidewalk caused by a tree in front of the home of Sammy Willis, 94.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

A controversy about the responsibility for fixing a broken sidewalk in front of a 94-year-old grandmother’s house ended peacefully Tuesday with two independent offers to pay for Sammy Willis’ share of the $2,000 bill as well as her son, Bill Willis, a contractor, offering to do the work, too.

The tree believed to be responsible for pushing up the pavement and creating a tripping hazard won’t have to be removed for the repair work, either, said Gregg Boysen, the city engineer, in a interview.

“We’ve got a graceful way out of the situation,” Mayor Doug Lyon said during the regular council meeting.

During the public hearing, Bill Willis and City Attorney David Smith tangled over the thorny issue of who should be responsible for a tree in a public right of way causing damage to a city sidewalk.

Bill Willis contended the city should be responsible for a city-owned tree.

Smith agreed partly that the city has been responsible for maintaining trees on public property since 1982, but disputed the notion that the city owned the tree between the sidewalk and the 100 block of West 17th Street across from Fassbinder Park.

Smith said it was inaccurate to call it a city-owned tree because the private property owner still had a residual or limited interest in the land for the public right of way. The land would revert to the private property owner if the city gave up its interest in the right of way.

As the discussion bore into the weeds with Bill Willis pointing out inconsistencies between ordinances and an information guide on Durango’s “urban forest,” city officials promised to clarify its language as part of its ongoing revision of its land-use development code.

The public hearing was ultimately declared moot because of the two offers from the public to do the work as well as Bill Willis also committing to the project, too, while stipulating that he thought the city’s $2,000 cost estimate was much too high.

The controversy also highlighted the city’s 50/50 sidewalk program in which the city will split the cost with property owners to fix a broken sidewalk on their land. After suspending the program over the last few years because of the recession, Durango has tentatively budgeted $50,000 for 50/50 for 2013.

If property owners cannot pay for their share up front, the city will put them on a five-year payment plan with a low interest rate of 2.5 percent or so, said Julie Brown, the city finance director.

City Councilor Sweetie Marbury, who also has an uprooted sidewalk in front of her house, said she will be signing up.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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