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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow Saving the squares

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Saving the squares

Baker City building and store owners, along with local government officials, have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to make the city’s downtown historic district a jewel among Oregon downtowns.

A small, but meaningful, part of that effort is the campaign to ensure that downtown sidewalks look the same.

For more than 20 years a city ordinance required that all new sidewalks in the historic district have two-foot squares scored into the concrete.

That design matches the sidewalks on both sides of Main Street. Those were built when the state repaved the street (which is part of a state highway) in the late 1980s.

The mandatory design was effective. Over the past two decades, sections of sidewalks elsewhere in the historic district were replaced, and downtown sidewalks gradually took on a more uniform — and in our view more attractive — appearance.

But then last year, as part of a broader project to overhaul city ordinances, Public Works Director Michelle Owen proposed changing the sidewalk ordinance.

Specifically, she suggested the city require sidewalk squares on Main Street only, but prohibit that design for sidewalks elsewhere.

Unfortunately, that change slipped below the City Council’s radar, and councilors approved the revised ordinance this March.

That councilors apparently didn’t notice Owen’s change isn’t shocking.

The ordinance overhaul document is hundreds of pages, and councilors, unlike members of Congress, don’t have aides to help them wade through inch-thick legislation.

Fortunately, rectifying the matter of sidewalk design downtown is relatively simple.

The Council should revert to the previous language in the ordinance, requiring sidewalks throughout the historic district (as defined in the National Register of Historic Places) to have two-foot squares.

Owen did tell councilors last week that she proposed banning the square design, except on Main Street, because that design can cause problems for the city when, for instance, it is working on water meters or fire hydrants.

The squares also present a potential tripping hazard, and adding them increases the cost of building sidewalks, Owen said.

Those are legitimate concerns, certainly.

Still, the previous ordinance, which resulted in quite a few blocks of squared sidewalks, seemed to work pretty well for the past two decades.

Historic Baker City Inc., the organization most intimately involved in what’s happening downtown, never complained about the sidewalk square mandate.

And for us, HBC’s endorsement settles the matter.

Squares win.

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