Watch your step: Frederick resident caught off-guard by city sidewalk policy | Municipal

Andy Stout was a bit taken aback when he got a notice from the city of Frederick recently.

The letter said there had been a complaint about the sidewalk in front of Stout’s house along North Market Street, and that he would need to have the bricks in front of the home repaired.

He could hire someone to do the work, or city workers could do it in exchange for an estimated cost of $8,000.

Stout, who wanted to fix the sidewalk in front of his circa-1910 home, was shocked by the price.

He eventually contacted the city, and they were able to work out an arrangement in which Stout would rearrange the bricks in the sidewalk to flatten the surface and make it more walkable.

But the notice opened Stout’s eyes to what he sees as a flawed process.

The city’s sidewalk policy is driven by complaints rather than proactive inspections by city staff, said Zack Kershner, director of the city’s Public Works department.

When a complaint is received, an inspector visits the site and decides the extent of any repairs that would be needed to bring the sidewalk into compliance.

After an inspection, the property owner is notified, including an estimate for using the city’s contractor.

The city does pay for half the cost of any part of the repairs that are necessary because of a city street tree, such as roots that are buckling the sidewalk.

Property owners have 60 days to have the repairs done, although Kershner said the city will approve requests for reasonable extensions for delays because of weather conditions or other extenuating circumstances.

Stout said that even though he and the city were able to reach an agreement, he still has several issues with the city’s process and believes a more equitable method needs to be designed.

The complaint-driven nature is a problem, because it misses areas where no one complains, he said.

Further, many people probably don’t know they’re responsible for the sidewalk in front of their property, he said.

While the cost was an annoyance for him, it could be financially devastating for some people.

The complaint about his property also set in motion a process that could have led to him getting rid of the brick sidewalk in front of his house and replacing it with a more standard concrete surface, he said, eliminating some of the character of the downtown area.

He said the process has made him more conscious of the state of sidewalks in other parts of the city as he walks around.

As of Tuesday, Stout was preparing to put in a little “sweat equity” to repair the bricks in his sidewalk.

“I’m not pro-tripping hazard,” he said.

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP