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Originally published Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 4:59 PM

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Editorial

City Hall wants a sidewalk paved to nowhere

Seattle City Hall has snared a homeowner in a requirement meant to tighten rules for developers. The rule could require a property owner to spend $15,000 on a 60-foot patch of asphalt to nowhere.

Seattle Times editorial

THAT chomping noise is the sound of Seattle City Hall biting itself in the backside. The bureaucracy cannot figure out how to reasonably apply a year-old ordinance intended to raise development standards in neighborhoods.

The unintended victim — a wholly appropriate word — is Jesus Barajas, who wants to rebuild a home on a lot he has owned for nearly 30 years. Instead of a comfortable retirement abode, he and his wife would be downsizing interior and exterior amenities to pay for $15,000 worth of asphalt paving to satisfy a city requirement for a sidewalk.

This descent into the maelstrom was described by Seattle Times reporter Sara Jean Green, who provided all the infuriating details about a sidewalk to nowhere.

Barajas lives on the east side of 32nd Avenue South, in the MLK at Holly Street urban village. Technically, he is inside a boundary with the legal imperative for sidewalks. Across the street, it would not apply.

The city's Department of Planning Development is sucking its teeth and knitting its brow, because, gee whiz, this is a toughie. Barajas is looking at $15,000 in expenses to survey, prep and pave his lot frontage. He can lay down 60 feet of asphalt instead of concrete, which is fine with the city because — get this — it is easier to tear up when, sometime in the distant future, this remote little street is widened and gets real sidewalks.

Instead of this couple on the cusp of a well-earned retirement paying for nothing, why not allow them to contribute to a sinking fund toward those eventual sidewalks? Nope, can't do that. That apparently violates city rules against holding money in escrow for long, long periods.

To recap, the Barajas are enduring an expense for something that will be torn up in the event the streets are widened and real sidewalks are built. They cannot pay into a fund toward that future expense because no one knows when sidewalks might appear.

Yes, the city needs coherent rules to ensure that developers are not allowed to avoid putting in sidewalks. Those rules were not intended to inadvertently snare random property owners and inflict mindless expenses on them.

This couple deserves help from inside City Hall. No one broke any rules. Instead, the rules are breaking two hardworking people.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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