Bethel is taking legal action to advance the downtown sidewalk project


BETHEL — The city’s effort to improve downtown streetscape has stalled due to a handful of property owners reluctant to get on board.

With an anticipated $1.5 million in grants, the city intends to continue building sidewalks on Wooster Street as part of its ongoing improvement project to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly, accessible, and safer.

“The grant money has been outstanding for a couple of years, but we’ve been notified that we should prepare to proceed, so we’re taking steps now to get this going,” First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker said Thursday.

After installing sidewalks along Wooster Street a few years ago, Knickerbocker said the city wanted to tackle the rest of the street — but several owners are holding up the process.

For the past six months, Knickerbocker said, the Bethel city attorney has been writing letters requesting easements from any property owner on Wooster Street whose property does not yet have a sidewalk.

“Some sidewalk work was done a few years ago, but easements are required for any property where we need to extend the sidewalk the rest of the way,” he said.

According to Knickerbocker, there are six lots on the street whose owners have either refused or ignored city requests for small easements needed to complete the sidewalk work.

“Due to the shape of the property and where the property lines drop, it’s not possible to redesign the sidewalk so that it stays entirely within the city’s legal right-of-way,” he said, noting that a gap of a few centimeters up to one foot is required properties to build the sidewalk.

“This situation is holding up the $1.5 million grant and preventing us from making these public safety improvements.”

Although they would be compensated for the relief, Knickerbocker said some of the property owners don’t want to grant them because they would be responsible for clearing snow on the city-installed sidewalk.

“Under our local ordinances — and almost every Connecticut city is the same way — property owners are responsible for snow removal, and they are responsible if someone gets injured from not being cleared,” he said. “That’s how it works, and it’s very common in all the northeastern states.”

To speed up sidewalk improvement work, the Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday for the city to begin sentencing proceedings to obtain permanent sidewalk easements on six lots on Wooster Street.

Knickerbocker said the sentencing process involves soliciting appraisals from two different appraisers for the six properties — a process he said is already underway — and then proving to a judge that the sidewalk project was “in the public interest.” Safe and good for the city”.

“The judge will make a decision ordering the property to be handed over at a fair price … and then it will be recorded in the deed and the city can proceed with the sidewalk project,” he said.

Efforts have been made over the past seven to eight years to make downtown Bethel safer and more attractive through sidewalk improvements.

“We’ve applied for every grant we can get to improve sidewalks and are doing everything we can to put sidewalks where they make sense, where they don’t exist, and fix those that are in bad shape.” condition are as much as possible,” said Knickerbocker.

The improvement of the sidewalk on Wooster Street is part of the city’s shopping mall improvement plan. The second phase of the plan calls for the development of a 1.6 km recreational walkway in Bethel’s commercial center and includes “the addition and connection of sidewalks at Wooster Street and Durant Avenue,” according to the 2014 Town Commercial Center Improvement Plan Bethel.


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