Under these new changes, council members approved a requirement for a fee in lieu of sidewalk construction of $12 per square foot when a property owner submits an application to modify sidewalks. The fee would pay for not having a sidewalk built and would eliminate “sidewalks to nowhere," which Mayor Sylvester Turner said occurs when sidewalks are built as part of new home construction but do not connect to any existing sidewalks.
The money earned from the fee will establish a sidewalk fund. Seventy percent of the money earned from the fee will be used to pay for construction of sidewalks in the neighborhoods from which they are collected, while the remaining 30% will contribute to the costs of building sidewalks throughout the city of Houston.
Prior to the ordinance, district council members had to dip into their own council district service funds to pay for sidewalk construction. District C Council Member Abbie Kamin said council members are “hemorrhaging” money to pay for them.
The Planning & Development Department projects the sidewalk fund will rake in $1.7 million annually for sidewalk construction.
Before passing the ordinance, there were qualms over the wording and the need for the fee, but council members, like at-large Council Member Sallie Alcorn, noted the need for a fee to pay for sidewalks.
“We spend about $3 million a year on sidewalks,” Alcorn said in the meeting, referencing the Planning & Development Department's existing $3.3 million annual budget for sidewalks.
The ordinance also lowers the application fee for sidewalks from $1,174.46 to $250 for single-family residential homes.
If a property is not automatically eligible for the "in lieu of" fee for sidewalk construction and the property owner wants to submit an application to pay the fee, they need to pay the $250 application fee for the Sidewalk Committee to review the application. The property owner can pay the "in lieu of" fee, and the $250 application fee will be deducted from the total "in lieu of" fee amount, according to the Planning & Development Department.
Sidewalks are currently the responsibility of residents. District J Council Member Edward Pollard noted that, in order to get sidewalks built throughout the city, there would need to be a bond referendum to pay for it.
The proposed changes were first introduced in February 2022 to the city's Super Neighborhood Alliance.