The Grand Forks, North Dakota, city council has found a novel way to connect its homeowners: demand they install public sidewalks across their lawns entirely at their own expense.
After more than 20 years of pitched resistance the council gave residents on several designated streets in Grand Forks an ultimatum: Put in the sidewalk in yourself, hire a contractor to put it in, or have the city hire a contractor to put it in and pay the city a special assessment.
One way or another people of Grand Forks, you're getting connected.
"There are no other options," Dana Sande, president of the City Council President told WDAZ-TV.
City code requires sidewalks, but the council has total discretion to waive the requirement if it wants to. As Sande said, there are no other options. "Sidewalks aren't protestable," he said bluntly in the WDAZ interview.
This, as you might imagine, hasn't connected with residents in the way Sande might have hoped. Jared Johnson, who purchased his home on Chestnut St. six years ago, said the city is forcing him to spend $8,500 to pave over a good portion of his lawn.
"It'll be a foot off of our property marker up on the corner then it'll cut across here in the driveway," Johnson said.
Johnson has so far gathered the signatures of more than half of his neighbors on a petition Sande said he and his fellow council members are free to ignore. Sande and the city intend to make liberal use of a special assessment, a charge levied on a property owner for an infrastructure intended to benefit the property.
The broader the supposed benefit of the infrastructure improvement, the less appropriate special assessment becomes.
Fears of the special assessment on Johnson's street in 1995, led to the first protest and a council decision to waive the city code requirement.
In 2008, the city council revisited the sidewalk issue, but after 33 of 35 property owners said no to them at a public hearing—again because of special assessment fears—the council agreed to delay any sidewalk construction until January 2016.
But with that exemption period over—and the City Council controlled by Sande—Chestnut St. homeowners have run out of options to keep their lawns from being dug up, concrete laid and a $100 a month special assessment fee levied.
Johnson told the local TV station he intends to put off plans he had for his property to set aside money for an improvement he wants nothing to do with.
"We were actually considering doing some possible addition on our home and some remodeling," Johnson told WDAZ, "but it [the special assessment] is kind of going to put us in a hard place again."
Sometimes all a city government needs is a little capriciousness to connect a community.