Is It a Sidewalk or a Pedestrian Way?

The Village petitions the Supreme Court to decide

A state appeals court decided in March that the Village of Egg Harbor had illegally condemned Shipwrecked Brew Pub’s private property to create a pedestrian way – not a sidewalk.

The village isn’t standing down for that ruling.

Last week, the village filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court seeking review of the Court of Appeals decision that reversed judgment in favor of the village, which was previously granted by Door County Circuit Court Judge David Weber against plaintiff Sojenhomer, doing business as Shipwrecked Brew Pub.

The village condemned approximately 392 square feet of property running along the County G side of the Shipwrecked building to widen the roadway to accommodate the sidewalk. The 2019 condemnation came after the village tried, unsuccessfully, to buy the land. After condemning the property, the village – through a cooperative agreement with the County of Door – reconstructed County G in 2020-21 and installed the sidewalk along the east side of the road.

Sojenhomer sued the village based on statutory language that distinguishes between a sidewalk and other improvements such as a pedestrian way – and property may not be acquired by condemnation to establish a pedestrian way. 

The village argued that the term “pedestrian way,” as used in the statute, was not intended to include “sidewalk,” which is a roadway safety feature. Although the circuit court agreed, the appeals court did not, and it ruled in Sojenhomer’s favor.

The village believes the case sets a new precedent, and if left unchallenged, will prohibit Wisconsin municipalities from utilizing their condemnation power to provide sidewalks within street rights-of-way – to the detriment of the health, safety and welfare of the general public, said John Heller, village board president. 

“The ultimate outcome of this case will have a major impact on Wisconsin municipalities’ ability to urbanize, make safety-related improvements and/or reconstruct their roads,” Heller said. “It will also impact the ever-so-important availability of grant funding, which often requires the installation of a sidewalk.”

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