It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing since the Rapid City Council approved an ordinance in 2016 requiring new buildings to have sidewalks, which one normally wouldn't expect to be controversial. Yet, time and time again a developer or business owner has sought a variance to avoid complying with the city ordinance.
The council, meanwhile, has rejected them after hearing the same arguments over and over again — namely that the property is located in an industrial part of town and far away from any foot traffic.
The most recent appeal was heard Tuesday night. BCD Investments sought the variance for a heating and air conditioning shop being built on Galt Court in northeast Rapid City. The developer’s arguments have some merit. In a written request to the city, it was pointed out that other businesses in the area don’t have sidewalks and foot traffic is non-existent at this time. So, why bother with it? The council voted 8-1 to reject the variance request.
Nonetheless, it led to a discussion about what to do with businesses built before 2016 when variances were handed out like candy at Halloween.
The city's new ordinance is creating an inequity of sorts as a patchwork of sidewalks emerges in certain areas while the city marches forward with a plan to make Rapid City more pedestrian-friendly, urbane, welcoming and generally safer.
In the case of the Galt Court property, Alderwomen Lisa Modrick and Amanda Scott acknowledged the reoccurring theme of "a sidewalk to nowhere on both ends" in the variance requests.
The question that seems to be emerging is should the city remain committed to its 2016 ordinance requiring new buildings and those that expand to build sidewalks or acquiesce to the drumbeat of variance requests from businesses willing to invest in the community?
Fortunately, the City Council is standing its ground. Sidewalks are an essential part of an investment in a community. They help beautify it and make it safer and more convenient for all residents.
The next step should be for the city to require or encourage existing businesses to build sidewalks. It isn't fair that some businesses have to build and maintain sidewalks while others don't. Even homeowners are required to maintain or replace deteriorating sidewalks at their own expense.
As Rapid City grows, areas now considered rural will someday likely see more businesses, homes and maybe even schools. It is good policy for the city to address the issue now rather than later when it will become more expensive and likely complicated.
It would be a big step in the right direction for a city that seeks to be more inviting to economic development efforts.