Committee members compromise on Center Street sidewalk plan

Cars line the sides of East Center Street in downtown Fayetteville Tuesday afternoon. Wider sidewalks are on tap for several areas on the south side of the street.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

When city crews complete a sidewalk improvement project on East Center Street in a few weeks, residents and business owners can take advantage of wider walkways which will allow for more foot traffic and cafe-style seating for restaurants.

The Fayetteville City Council’s Street Committee voted on Tuesday to approve construction of three “bumpouts” which will extend the width of the sidewalks to about 16 feet in some areas on the south side of the street.

The panel voted to adopt this design
without the bumpouts on the north
side of the street.

Original design

City officials had planned a basic sidewalk replacement project for the stretch of Center Street between College Avenue and an alleyway near the square, but several downtown business owners asked that an alternative concept be considered.

Instead of simply removing and replacing the existing nine-foot sidewalks, the group advocated for a new design that will provide wider sidewalk areas to allow for streetside cafes and other amenities.

As a result, city planners created an alternate design that included bumpouts on both sides of the street. The proposal would have reduced on-street parking from 24 to 17 spaces.

During a public meeting held last week, some owners supported the proposed changes while others said they preferred to stick with the original plan.

The majority of those opposed to the bumpouts were concerned about the loss of parking.

“We don’t have enough parking spaces there now, and I don’t see any use doing away with the ones we’ve got,” said Ron Woodruff, who owns a law office on the north side of Center Street.

Saleh Faur, who owns Petra Cafe on the south side of Center Street, was one of 21 downtown business owners who signed a petition advocating for the changes.

Faur said besides increasing foot traffic, wider sidewalks and cafe seating could help some restaurants more easily serve senior citizens and customers with disabilities.

“That’s one of our biggest dilemmas out there is the accessibility of these places,” said Faur, whose customers – as well as patrons of Taste of Thai – must first climb a set of seven stairs before entering the restaurant.

After compiling all the public comments submitted – verbal and written – city staff said the majority of business owners were in favor of an alternate design whereas the majority of property owners wanted to keep with the original plan.

Siding with the property owners, Ward 3 Alderman and Street Committee Chairman Bobby Ferrell said he would not support the removal of any parking spaces. Ferrell said the group should go with the original plan and revisit the idea of adding bumpouts at another time.

Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty disagreed.

“Business owners bring value to the city as do property owners,” said Petty. “There are differences of opinion here, but I think it’s our job to split the difference in a responsible way.”

Petty suggested only building bumpouts on the south side of the street, a plan that could add up to three more on-street parking spaces than the alternate design originally called for.

Brenda Boudreaux, a Ward 1 alderwoman, said she’d support the idea as long as there is a guarantee that no more than four parking spaces will be removed.

Petty agreed and the group voted 3-1 to adopt the amended alternate design. Ferrell cast the sole ‘no’ vote.

As with the original plan, the new design also includes new tree wells and streetlights to match recently rebuilt sidewalks on College Avenue and Mountain Street.

Work on the project could begin as early as one week from Monday and would likely take about two weeks to complete, according to Transportation Services Director Terry Gulley.

The alternate design was originally estimated to add about $20,000 to the $72,000 Center Street project, but with the removal of the northern bumpouts, added costs would likely be reduced unless significant drainage work is needed.