Local builders showed up in force at the Nov. 14 Brookhaven City Council meeting to protest a recent crackdown by city officials to mandate new sidewalks be built as part of new house construction.
City officials say local builders have always been required to construct new sidewalks and raise granite curbs when building new houses, but enforcement of the city code began in earnest in July after the city amended the building code to include its bike-and-pedestrian master plan.
Ron Koenraad said he has lived in Brookhaven since 1986 and has built houses in the area for 21 years. The city’s requirement that builders construct new sidewalks in front of every new house it builds — whether on a new piece of property or after a house has been torn down and a new one built in its place — is “overreaching” its authority, he said.
“They are trying to put infrastructure on us and that is not fair,” he said.
“We have built out Brookhaven … and it seems the city has taken a view against residential builders,” he said. “This is not what we voted for when we voted for Brookhaven and for certain members of the council.”
Public Works Director Hari Karikaran acknowledged that is exactly what the city is doing — it is requiring builders to invest in sidewalks and curbing as part of the city’s plan to create connectivity throughout the city and also to make sidewalks safe for pedestrians.
DeKalb County requires new sidewalks be built in front of new homes and many other cities in metro Atlanta also require builders to build new sidewalks as part of new house construction, Karikaran said. New sidewalks are not required as part of an addition to an existing house, he added. He said he is not sure why the construction of new sidewalks was not enforced in the past. Karikaran just came on the job late last year.
Builders are required to build 5-foot-wide sidewalks in front of a new home, Karikaran said. “That is why it is called curb appeal,” he said.
Two years ago, the city tried to enforce this same code, but the council eventually agreed to a moratorium after pushback from builders. Plans to address to the issue at the time apparently fell to the wayside.
Several builders now are asking the city to form a task force that includes local builders to come up with a plan on how to handle sidewalk construction.
Ken Warlick, another local builder, told the council the amendment to include the bike and pedestrian plan into the city code is a “hot topic” among his colleagues. It costs $20,000 to build a new sidewalk, a considerable expense when it comes to constructing a new home, he said.
A task force could help clear up confusion and allow the city to get feedback from those who are actually building the houses, he said.
“There is a lack of clarity,” he said. “We have interpreted this as all or nothing. The intent is not clear.”
Christine Fortenberry, another general contractor who builds homes in Brookhaven, said she admired the city’s desire to improve the streetscape while also making sidewalks safe.
“But we ask you to consider a task force to partner your objectives with our knowledge of the construction industry,” she said. “We are now being asked to build sidewalks to nowhere.”
Branden Reagan also told the council that the bike-and-pedestrian plan is creating instances where homebuilders are having to “construct sidewalks to nowhere.”
Two years ago, the city faced similar criticism from local builders. Another of the complaints from local builders has been the requirement that they raise granite curbs as part of new construction of a home, Koenraad said in an interview.
Koenraad said original curbs “had a face” of 6 inches above the road, but after time and paving of a street, the curbs sink. Requiring builders like himself to raise the curb back to its original six inches for new builds is costly, he said.
“But if a house next door was built three years ago, that curb is not raised,” he said, adding that creates an unsafe sidewalk. “It’s called a street curb, not a new-build curb.”
— Dyana Bagby