Denver has $4 million to help you fix your sidewalks — or else

In Denver, property owners are legally responsible for fixing up the walkways along their lots. You might not know that, since the law is very rarely enforced.

Sidewalks in Capitol Hill. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Sidewalks in Capitol Hill. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) sidewalks; capitol hill; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Sidewalks in Capitol Hill. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

In Denver, property owners are legally responsible for fixing up the walkways along their lots. You might not know that, since the law is very rarely enforced.

But that’s probably going to change, and fast.

City officials are preparing a campaign to force people to repair their sidewalks, with inspectors blanketing whole neighborhoods at once.

To ease the pain, Denver will offer up millions of dollars of assistance for people in financial need. Those who don’t qualify can still hire the contractors deployed by the city, which may lower the costs.

The details, please:

Denver has been letting people slide on this rule for years, resulting in some pretty gnarly sidewalks. Only thirteen landowners were ordered to fix their walks in 2017, and most of them were commercial properties or apartments. (For example, the North Face store’s building in Cherry Creek.)

It’s understandable: You could imagine the backlash if the city suddenly started imposing hundreds or thousands of dollars of costs.

So, city leaders are trying to compromise. Denver will pick a new area every year and inspect every single inch of residential sidewalk. The first area will be near downtown — we don’t know where yet — and contain 236 miles of sidewalk.

The city figures that about 12 percent of all properties will need repairs, and the average repair cost is estimated to be $2,000.

If you’re ordered to do repairs, you’ll have a few options.
  • If you have low enough income, the repairs will be free or discounted. The city hasn’t announced the rules for this.
  • Some people will qualify for a three-year loan, with the first payment due a year after the work is done.
  • If you are ordered to do repairs, you can either do it yourself or pay the city’s contractor, which should be cheaper than hiring an independent company, according to city officials.

“I’m very hopeful that this program, regardless of what your income level is, will provide benefits that we’re just not able to offer today,” said Councilman Paul Kashmann at a recent committee meeting.

This program will not apply to missing sidewalks. If you don’t have a sidewalk, the city won’t be ordering you to build one through this program — but they’re certainly thinking about that, too.

This has been a long time coming.

Mayor Michael Hancock’s budget set aside $4 million for this program. That money should carry it at least through its first year, but it may take close to a decade to cover all of Denver. About $260,000 will pay for staffing costs, while the rest will go toward repairs and associated costs.

“This really is a brave new world for public works,” said Kashmann, who has pushed the issue for years. He credited the mayor’s administration for acknowledging the need.

“This is a huge step forward for sidewalks in Denver and a big step into uncharted territory,” added Councilman Jolon Clark.

There are still plenty of questions — such as where the program will start and what will be done with special materials such as flagstone.

City staff expect to have more information next month. The full Denver City Council will still have to vote on the proposal, but support was strong at an initial committee meeting.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.