ELYRIA — A simple little sidewalk is causing a ruckus on the city’s southeast side.
The sidewalk is just 325 feet in length and is the only pass-through between the University Oaks and Hampton Estates subdivisions, but for nearby neighbors, it’s long enough to cause a stir.
Some want it removed or at the very least closed to pedestrian traffic for good, while others would prefer it to be left alone as it has been a fixture in area since at least 1990.
“I ride my bike or walk through there when the weather is nice,” said longtime Xavier Court resident Shari Cygan. “It was put there to connect the two developments, not to aggravate the neighbors.”
Yet, the latter is the reason why closing it is being explored.
Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka said the city was pulled into the sidewalk issue several months ago when Kent Circle resident Donald Papuga inquired about having the sidewalk removed. It runs directly beside his home and he told Siwierka it was being used by kids and adolescents that damage the fence and bushes at his home while using the cut-through.
“There have been six or seven incidences of vandalism and the police have been out there,” Siwierka said “There have been multiple incidences and he was looking for a solution.”
Papuga could not be reached Friday.
After research that involved the Law, Engineering and Building departments, Siwierka said the city came up with a plan to remove the sidewalk as long as the four adjacent property owners agreed and would assume the cost. But no one wanted to take on the monetary responsibility, she said.
To complicate matters, Siwierka said there are at least two easements to the property because a sanitary sewer runs directly beneath.
“We have to have access to that area,” said City Engineer Tim Ujvari. “We can’t allow anything to be built there on a permanent basis because if we need to get in there, we will dig up the area.”
Siwierka said the Building Department then began looking into whether the sidewalk could be barricaded indefinitely. That appeared to be the best solution, and earlier this week Chief Building Inspector Phil Lahetta signed off on a barricade.
“We thought everything had been checked and no one opposed it of the adjoining property owners,” Siwierka said.
But soon after a sign was placed near the Kent Circle entrance telling walkers the sidewalk was closing effective Friday, Siwierka received calls and visits from residents. By late Thursday afternoon, she said the city backed down from supporting a barricade, telling Papuga to wait until more issues can be researched.
“He was given permission based on the steps taken, but there seems to be some questions that probably will have to be sorted out with lawyers and surveyors,” she said. “We told everyone ‘This is not the end, just a pause to work things out.’ ”
Chris Sito, Papuga’s next-door neighbor, has now put up his own sign near the sidewalk asking other residents to stand behind him in not wanting the sidewalk closed. He urged them to call City Council members because he owns most of the property where the sidewalk is and wants it to stay.
Sito said it’s unfortunate the issue has gone this far because 99 percent of the people who use the sidewalk are good people.
“These are our neighbors,” he said. “For everyone or two bad incidents that may have happened, I can think of dozens of more times our neighbors have looked out for us. The sidewalk is nice because it makes people know they are welcome to walk the neighborhood.”
Sito likens the situation to a city deciding to shutter little league fields because one person can’t follow the rules.
“You deal with the one person. You don’t punish everyone,” he said.
Now that more people will be made aware of the possible closure, he hopes others will speak out.
“In the winter time, it’s not used that much. But with the weather changing you will see people walking their dogs, visiting their family and friends and going for walks and all will be wanting to use that sidewalk, he said.
Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large, said he has known about the sidewalk for years.
“My brother lives over there,” he said. “It’s just always been there.”
Stewart said he was contacted Thursday evening by Sito.
“I don’t have all the facts, but I know it’s used by people walking through the neighborhoods and riding their bikes,” he said.
Stewart said he is torn about getting involved before the city’s Law and Building Departments make a clear determination on who owns the land, why the sidewalk went in and what the rights of Sito and Papuga are as property owners.
“I‘m all about protecting private property rights, and I don’t want Mr. Papuga’s property to be defaced,” Stewart said. “But if you have kids using it to get for one subdivision to another, that has to be taken into consideration.”
Cygan, who has lived on Xavier since 1983, said the sidewalk was installed in 1990. She remembers because her children attended Prospect Elementary at the time and used it to walk or bike to the school. It cut out a lot of travel time.
“We had a school bus; but when that sidewalk was put in, the school bus was taken away because it was easier for the kids to walk,” she said.
Amy Higgins, Elyria Schools spokeswoman, said closing the sidewalk will not affect walkers today because it’s board policy to only provide busing to students living more than two miles from a school.
“There is no telling what the developers were thinking when it came to school kids when the sidewalk was put in, but right now it has no bearing on transportation,” she said. “We had no direct knowledge of the pass-through and believe it’s about a quarter-mile or more from the school.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.