A business owner in Wendell brought attention to what one commissioner calls a “catch-22” over sidewalks when he spoke before the Board of Commissioners at its May 9 meeting.
Mark Vardy, a chiropractor and owner of Vardy HPC, was looking for an exemption to the town’s Unified Development Ordinance, which requires him to build a sidewalk along his property at 2555 Wendell Blvd. The ordinance, he said, should take into account the fact that the sidewalk at his property would not connect to any others, which he said causes a safety issue.
Vardy would like to wait until sidewalks are built beside his property before he starts on his.
He said he had budgeted the sidewalk into construction of his multipurpose facility, but then had doubts about whether he should proceed. He doesn’t want to encourage walking to his facility until the town has a better system of sidewalks to get his clients all the way there safely, he said.
“The more I studied some of this stuff,” he said, “I started to see some pretty significant problems with me going ahead and putting that infrastructure in.”
Heading westward on Wendell Boulevard from his property, the nearest sidewalk is 0.8 miles away, he said, and on the other side of the highway. Heading eastward, the nearest sidewalk is 3.4 miles away.
Noncontiguous sidewalks, he said, create a safety concern when pedestrians reach the end and have to cross the street to reach another sidewalk, or have to walk along the side of the road.
“The number one thing about sidewalks,” he said, “is that they should be safe, and our current system is going to create a whole web of noncontiguous sidewalks.”
As a volunteer fireman, Vardy said, he knows the danger firsthand. “This stuff is personal to me,” he said. “I’ve seen it, and I know how bad it can be.”
Commissioner Jason Joyner said Vardy made some good points, but is not sure how else to get sidewalks in town if the UDO didn’t require them along with new building construction.
“I think it’s something that the board will look at,” he said. “We certainly welcome his comments. ... It’s a catch-22. If you never had anyone build a sidewalk then you’ll never get sidewalks, but I understand his frustrations. There’s got to be a way that we can increase sidewalks in Wendell.”
Commissioner John Boyette agreed that Vardy raised valid points but said the process has to move forward somehow. “If we tell everybody that they can wait to build sidewalks then no one will ever build sidewalks,” he said. “So we have to start somewhere.”
Boyette pointed to construction of Hephzibah Baptist Church, at 1794 Wendell Blvd., as a comparison.
“There was a similar conversation with them about sidewalks,” Boyette said. “As a board, we said sidewalks are important and we have to start somewhere. ... We’re trying to be fair and equitable to everyone.”
Town officials are working on a plan to map out pedestrian improvements over the next several years and have asked the public to weigh in on what it thinks the town’s priorities should be.
The town posted an online survey in March that asks about the respondents’ walking habits and for feedback on where pedestrian improvements such as sidewalks, greenways and intersection crossings are most needed in town.
Town Planner Allison Rice has also cobbled together what she calls a stakeholder group that will help analyze the data once the survey period closes in June.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826