Community Members Speak Out Against City’s Plan to Add Sidewalks

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WINDSOR HEIGHTS, Iowa -- All of the people who spoke out at the public meeting oppose new sidewalks in Windsor Heights.

A survey on the city's website says that nearly 70 percent of the community opposes sidewalks. Despite that documented opposition, the city is moving forward with its walkability plans.

"Our city voted 4-1 to be a walkable community," said Mayor Diana Willits to a packed room full of angry taxpayers that responded to that statement by booing.

The city seemed unprepared to meet the sentiment in the room at the Windsor Heights Community Center, leaving lots of questions unanswered. Zach Young, the principal planner for the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Chairperson for the Walkability Committee, presented the plan to those in attendance, yet he did not have a map with him during his presentation to show those in attendance which streets would have sidewalks added.

Mayor Willits told the crowd that the map is on the city's website, and then she asked someone to run to city hall to go quickly make black and white copies of the map and bring them to the meeting to be distributed.

City officials seemed unfazed by the overwhelming opposition to the plan in the room. "I don`t think it`s anything that we`re really surprised about," said Mayor Diana Willits, after the meeting had concluded. "This is a very divisive topic. There are citizens that are neighbors to people sitting here and they’re certainly not going to come out and speak openly that they’re a sidewalk supporter."

That was an opinion shared by a couple of the City Council Members as well.

"Whenever you have dissent, you have to listen to the people and we are in a very small community where we interact with each other on a regular basis," said Council Member Zachary Bales-Henry. "However, two of us were elected this past year and two of us did not hide the fact that we were for walkability and had sidewalks in mind. And, there were a lot of individuals that don’t have the ability to make it to these meetings. There are working parents. They have to go pick up their children."

"I support walkability in this community and I support complete streets in this community and that’s something I ran on," said Council Member Threase Harms. "There`s so many benefits that come from sidewalks, and I would challenge those people who are not supportive of sidewalks in our community or walkability within our community, whether it's bike trails or whatever, that they look and see what the benefits are."

Meanwhile, Cynthia McCall of Del Matro Ave isn't seeing the benefits.

"I don`t think they need them on these side streets. There`s not enough traffic. It`s just not necessary," said McCall.

But, one of McCall's neighbors down the street would like to see residential sidewalks in Windsor Heights.

"I think it would help make our city more walkable, and I think we need to think about the future and the health of our residents and the future of our city, and I think we need a more walkable city," said Sandy Dixon, also of Del Matro Ave.

The next time the plan will come up for discussion is at the city council meeting on July 18.

"July 18 is strictly for ordinance and that is taking all of the information we’ve received, putting it together, and then creating the council ordinance. Remember, the council hasn’t contributed to this ordinance yet. Their job right now is to listen to everybody and then put together a better ordinance that better reflects our citizenry, and then we’ll have three readings of that ordinance. So, the 18 meeting is more the council discussion and then an ordinance will be written based on council discussion, and then we’ll have three readings before anything goes into effect," said Mayor Willits.

Mayor Willits says a finalized plan could be ready by the end of September.