Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Side Walk to Nowhere

Coming to a neighborhood near you, paid for by you, if you live in Seattle:
Jesus Barajas wanted granite countertops and hardwood floors but is settling for Formica and carpet. Instead of hiring professional house painters and landscapers, he now plans to do the work himself.

The soured economy is part of the reason Barajas is downsizing his dreams for the new, 2,400-square-foot home he's building on property he's owned for nearly 30 years. Mostly, though, he's cutting back on amenities to pay for construction of a sidewalk outside his front door.

The price tag: nearly $15,000 for a 60-foot strip of asphalt.

Seattle officials admit Barajas is an unintended target of a year-old city ordinance meant to force developers to provide infrastructure improvements in the city's 22 designated urban villages.

....Barajas, a janitor for King County Metro since 1990, and his wife, Maria, a housekeeper at a downtown hotel, have saved for 12 years to afford the down payment on their $250,000 construction loan.

"I just want something to live comfortable after I retire," said Barajas, 61, adding that the new house will be his teenage daughter's inheritance.

The financial sting of building a sidewalk is all the more painful because Barajas wouldn't need one if he lived on the west side of 32nd Avenue South, instead of the east side. That's because the western boundary of the MLK at Holly Street urban village is the center line of Barajas' narrow residential street.

....Homebuilder Olivier Prock has spent countless hours trying to negotiate with city staffers on Barajas' behalf. ....

...he...has to pay for an engineer, a surveyor and an excavator. He also has to pay for a transportation-department review and inspection, along with traffic control while the sidewalk is built and street cleaning after it's done. By Prock's estimate, the sidewalk — measuring 60 feet long and 6 feet wide with a 5-foot-wide planting strip and curb abutting the road — will cost $13,920 to $14,420.

"At first I thought they were joking, I thought they misread the code," Prock said,....

The last new home on Barajas' street was built 10 years ago, he said. At that rate, Prock figures it could take 100 years or longer for a continuous sidewalk to be built.

"We'll all be dead and buried, and by that time, Mr. Barajas' sidewalk would have outlived its useful life," he said.

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