Fort Oglethorpe: Stumbling on sidewalk issues

Fort Oglethorpe: Stumbling on sidewalk issues

February 27th, 2009 by Beverly Carroll in Georgia

Fort Oglethorpe's city manager insists work replacing sidewalks in the city's most historic area won't start until he's got a legal definition about language in the deed that gave the city ownership 50 years ago.

Ron Goulart said he must know what constitutes "inappropriate construction or obstruction," a term cited in a lawsuit against the city claiming a concrete cricket pitch the city built is illegal.

Residents of historic Barnhardt Circle say he is linking unrelated issues. Some say the delay puts the city at greater risk of liability by leaving the cracked and buckled sidewalks unrepaired.

"We tell our guests to walk on the street. We are concerned they will trip and fall on the sidewalks," said James Powell, owner of a bed and breakfast on Barnhardt Circle.

His business is inside one of the stately, late 19th century homes that ring the historic circle. The houses were officers' homes during the heyday of the Army post, home of the Sixth Cavalry.

The city plans to use $300,000 of state transportation grant funds, along with local dollars, to pay for the sidewalk project. The walks ring the circle on the outside of the road, and the project includes sidewalks out to the intersection of Harker Road and LaFayette Road.

Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell<br> Sidewalks around Barnhardt Circle in Fort Oglethorpe are in need of repairs.

Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell<br> Sidewalks around Barnhardt Circle...

"The DOT has tentatively approved the plans," said Terry Reynolds, Arcadis Engineering senior planner. "We hope to be out for bids by late spring."

The project may be done in phases, depending upon costs and available funds, Mr. Reynolds said.

Mr. Goulart, formerly the city attorney, said he wants to settle a lawsuit filed by one Barnhardt resident before starting the improvement project.

Plaintiff Sharon Anderson filed suit claiming the cricket pitch, a concrete strip about 50 feet long used for the baseball-like game of cricket, violates restrictions on use of the land inside the circle.

The strip was poured on the former Polo Field area at the request of area residents, city officials said.

The city bought the 19-acre Polo Field in the 1950s from William and C.W. Stephenson, agreeing to preserve it for public uses. The deed banned "inappropriate construction or obstruction."

Mr. Goulart said after the cricket pitch lawsuit, he fears the pricier sidewalk project could be considered a violation, too.

Mayor Ronnie Cobb said the city put up electrical boxes so there can be power for various events.

"That violated the covenant," Mr. Cobb said. "But the whole circle wanted those boxes."

Ms. Anderson's lawsuit asks that the city remove the concrete cricket pitch.

Paula Muina is a Barnhardt resident and president of the Post Community Association, which she said is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the historic circle. She and her husband attended a City Council meeting this month state support for the sidewalk project.

She said there is concern that Barnhardt residents are being punished because of the lawsuit, with the badly needed sidewalks used as leverage.

City Council members say they favor replacing the sidewalks.

"They have been in bad shape for years; they are embarrassing," Councilman Charles Sharrock said. "But we need to get this out of the way. If we cut a root and one of those historical trees dies, we will probably get sued."

Councilman Harold Silcox said he favors removing the cricket pitch, but he stopped short of making a formal motion. He said he thinks the issue can be settled without a formal vote.

Meanwhile, Thursday was the deadline for the city to reply to Ms. Anderson's lawsuit. Mr. Goulart said he is asking the court for clarification.