But many of the picturesque retaining walls are expected to crumble when the city starts replacing the sidewalks.
“It’s like a sweater,” Rome Public Works Director Jamie McCord said. “Pull on a string, and the whole thing could unravel.”
The 2006 special purpose, local option sales tax package contains $2 million for South Broad pedestrian improvements between Myrtle Hill Cemetery and Cedar Avenue.
City officials had initially proposed replacing the walls as part of the project, but the SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee balked at using tax money to improve private property.
The Rome City Commission awarded a contract last week for repaving, curbs and gutters, sidewalks, landscaping and lighting. Now, with work slated to start in July, professional staffers are warning their predictions haven’t changed.
“In a lot of places, the sidewalk may be holding the wall up,” City Manager John Bennett said, “even in places where the walls look good.”
Commissioners Buzz Wachsteter and Bill Collins examined the issue last week as members of the city’s public works committee. They directed crews removing the sidewalks to stabilize the front yards with dirt, if necessary, then notify the property owners to make repairs.
The final solution, however, may not be that simple.
Some of the deterioration is decades-old, Bennett said, “and if a property owner was interested in doing something, he would have already done it.” Some of the landlords don’t even live in Rome, he said; others like their walls the way they are — and the city does not have easement rights to enter the yards.
“This is an unusual situation,” Bennett said. “Whenever we’ve done road projects, we’ve always dealt with the walls as part of the project.”
Chief building official Howard Gibson agreed to send violation notices to the worst offenders, advising them to fix their walls or the city would do it and lien the house to recover the cost.
But Gibson also said there is a need to create a policy addressing the situation, which exists in older neighborhoods around the city. He pointed out that side-street walls connected to those on South Broad also will be affected by the project.
Wachsteter and Collins said a new policy will likely include a path to gain control of neglected properties, noting that the streetscape project is aimed at beautification to encourage private investment.
For now, though, “I think preserving the integrity of what is there for the safety of pedestrians is going to be the limit of our focus,” Public Services Director Kirk Milam said.