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More than $4.3 million in concrete will be laid down for sidewalks in Lakeland this year but not a penny more will be spent on one planned project after residents convinced city commissioners Monday there is overwhelming opposition to installing sidewalks along Sandpiper Drive.
Sandpiper resident David Crowell told the Lakeland City Commission that residents in the 1,153-home golf community north of I-4 are adamantly against the planned $318,000 sidewalk installation project.
Homeowners are concerned about having driveways, landscaping and sprinkler systems “thrown up,” Crowell said, and see no reason for the sidewalks.
Sandpiper resident Jim Brown said there is no danger for pedestrians or any pressing safety concerns on the road requiring the improvements. “There’s no reason for the city to waste money on doing something that residents don’t want done. It is not needed,” he said.
According to Lakeland Manager of Engineering Ryan Lazenby, the city received a request for Sandpiper sidewalks in 2018 when a resident contacted an unnamed county commissioner. The development’s 1994 plan adoption includes sidewalks on one side of Sandpiper Drive to be constructed on city-owned rights-of-way in the subdivision upon request by residents, he said.
The city did not query “1,100 different residents” in the subdivision but met with the homeowners association “before we picked up the pencil and committed any dollars,” Lazenby said, acknowledging communities are often split in support of sidewalks. In this case, he chose the side of the road with three fewer driveways so there would be “three less people to tick off.”
The project proceeded with $38,500 allocated for design and engineering this year and $280,000 earmarked for next year.
All was set except, as things turned out, the sidewalk request “was cooked up” by several homeowners and allowed to advance by the homeowners association without consulting members, Brown said.
“Two former board members are no longer board members because of this and things like this. They had to resign,” he said.
During separate meetings last week among Sandpiper homeowners, Brown said one hand-vote was 77-3 against. A posting on NextDoor said a straw poll of 116 homeowners showed 89 against, 25 for and two undecided.
Crowell said he had a petition signed by 240 homeowners opposing the sidewalks.
City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said the request from Sandpiper residents for sidewalks is “what started the conversation” with the president of the HOA and that discussion is what prompted the city “to start the process” in planning the sidewalk project.
“There was confusion,” as things turned out, about whether the HOA was speaking on behalf of residents, Sherrouse said.
Homeowners associations and boards do not make decisions about sidewalk installation projects, he said. “It is the city commission and city staff” that makes those determinations, Sherrouse said, noting it is a voluntary city policy to “have a meeting to gauge” interest in neighborhood sidewalk projects.
Commissioner Mike Musick said the city should “scuttle this and move on” although, he added, the actual property in question where the sidewalks would be installed is deeded city right-of-way.
“It’s the citizens’ right to not have sidewalks,” Commissioner Bill Read said.
“We’ve already stopped and we won’t proceed any further,” Sherrouse said.
Lazenby said there is $294,000 remaining of the $318,500 project, meaning $24,000 of the $38,500 allocated this year has been spent.
“There is a home for” that $294,000, Mayor Bill Mutz said.
According to the city’s five-year capital improvement plan, Lakeland and the Florida Department of Transportation will spend about $4.3 million this year in sidewalk programs and projects.
The DOT will spend $1.7 million this fiscal year on sidewalks in Lakeland, including $893,525 for its Main Street Pathways program. Other sidewalk projects include $478,065 for Three Parks Trail East and $272,817 for sidewalks on North Crystal Lake from Willow Point to Longfellow Road.
Lakeland has earmarked $908,631 for its sidewalk repair and replacement sidewalk contingency fund and anticipates $10,059 in developer contributions to under-construction projects.
In addition, there are 13 city sidewalk projects totaling more than $1.6 million on tap for this fiscal year, including:
- $247,705 for sidewalks on Gilmore Avenue from Parkview to East Crawford
- $202,403 for sidewalks on Lakeland Highlands Road from Lowes to Polk Parkway
- $163,778 for sidewalks on Luce Road from Hallam to Lake Miriam drives
- $103,600 for Sylvester Road Phase II;
- $100,000 Chestnut Road sidewalks from US 92 to Chestnut Woods Drive.
Among those 13 projects is $38,500 set aside to begin engineering and design work Sandpiper’s proposed $318,500 sidewalk project, which was to begin in earnest next year with a $280,000 outlay budgeted.
But all that’s off the books now.
“The majority don’t want it and just want to rest and relax” without worrying that the city build sidewalks they don’t want, Crowell said.
“We hear you loud and clear,” Mutz said.
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So, without polling residents and doing due diligence, the City has wasted $38K – probably on a pet contractor instead of utilizing in-house personnel.
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