By Allen Cowgill
The start of fee collection for Denver’s Ordinance 307, also known as Denver Deserves Sidewalks, will be delayed six months.
Councilwoman Amanda P. Sandoval, representing Northwest Denver’s Council District 1, first proposed the delay on Sept. 12 at a meeting of the City Council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (LUTI).
City Council passed the proposed delay by a vote of 13-0 on Oct. 2. Council members voiced urgency about addressing the safety and quality of Denver’s sidewalks, but supported the delay as a pathway toward a more equitable fee structure than what is presently reflected.
Ordinance 307 passed in November 2022, with 56% of voters supporting the measure. The new law initiated an annual fee for property owners based on the linear square footage of sidewalk on their property.
Originally, the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) was to begin fee collection in January 2024.
Fees will go toward building out Denver’s missing sidewalk network over the next nine years. They will also fund a long-term maintenance plan for repairs, as well as upgrades to sidewalks that do not currently meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifications.
Previously it was the responsibility of property owners to maintain their own sidewalks and pay for any needed repairs.
After the passage of 307, a task force was formed in late summer 2023 to come up with a recommendation to address the concerns raised by some residents around the collection of the sidewalk ordinance fee.
Councilman Kevin Flynn and Councilman Paul Kashmann serve on the task force, along with members of the community who were either advocates for Ordinance 307 or who had concerns about the funding structure.
Councilwoman Sandoval wants to afford the taskforce more time to develop recommendations for an equitable funding structure.
“I’m responding to concerns about the current fee structure from my constituents and from other residents in Denver,” Sandoval said. “And to give time for property owners to be able to save for some of the fee structures as they come forward.
“When we passed the fee for trash,” Sandoval added, “we had an opt-out fee based on how much you made. We don’t have that in this ordinance. For seniors aging in place, we don’t have an opportunity for them not to pay a fee. The equity concern for me was really also a driver for me bringing this ordinance forward.”
Council President Jamie Torres said that a delay is helpful, knowing the task force will likely recommend changes to the fee structure.
“We should know what it is going to change to before we start implementing it, so folks know what to expect. … This was approved by the voters, it is still going forward. This is a way for us to open a window for that task force to do its work.”
Councilman Chris Hinds expressed concerns about delaying the implementation, noting that one-third of residents in his district, in neighborhoods around Capitol Hill, don’t own cars and rely on sidewalks to get around, many of which are in a state of disrepair.
“All the people I talked to were unified on the end goal of having pedestrian-friendly sidewalks throughout our city. The controversy was how to pay for it,” Hinds said. He ultimately supported the delay, given the fee structure is likely to change, but expressed the need for urgency on repairing and building out the sidewalk network.
Sandoval left the door open for fee collection to begin earlier if the task force comes to its final recommendation prior to January, and if the recommendation is in alignment with the changes council is hoping to see in the billing structure. She thanked proponents of the sidewalk ordinance for bringing forward the measure and added that she wants to make sure the fee structure “has equity baked into it.”
Councilman Kashmann also noted the urgency to fix the sidewalk network, mentioning that Denver has 300 miles of streets without sidewalks, and over 1,000 miles of nonstandard sidewalk not wide enough for wheelchairs or strollers.
“But I think you are 100% right,” Kashmann said, “that we need to have a plan in place before we start charging our residents.”
When asked about the delay, DOTI Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Gallardo said that it is an opportunity lost in the short term, but a smaller impact when factored against consequences for Denver residents for generations to come.
Allen Cowgill is the City Council District 1 appointee to the DOTI Advisory Board, where he serves as the board secretary. Cowgill also serves on the Denver Ordinance 307 Task Force.