The city’s policy of adding sidewalks to reconstructed streets drew a second intense debate in a row on Feb. 11.

At one point, Mayor Tim Swadley had to intervene to maintain order.

The debate ended with no change to a Jan. 28 decision to deviate from the city’s policy – a sidewalk on one side of Grant Street between Taft and Prospect Streets, rather than both.

In October, alders had initially voted to remove funding for sidewalks from the neighborhood reconstruction entirely, but the Jan. 28 debate ended with a compromise of adding sidewalks to one side of the street.

The city’s 23-year-old policy of retrofitting sidewalks in older neighborhoods without them and charging homeowners half the cost of sidewalk and driveway repairs or additions has been a contentious one for years.

But at the Feb. 11 meeting, alders who spoke in favor of the new sidewalk focused on how it would provide greater safety and neighborhood accessibility for people with disabilities.

Ald. Sid Boersma (Dist. 1) offered an amendment that would change the city policy so homeowners would not be responsible for the costs of maintaining the sidewalks in front of their homes, and multiple alders said they would welcome looking at such a policy change at a later date.

Despite this, the Grant Street discussions in October, January and last week appeared to be less about cost and more about whether it would damage trees and change the look of the surrounding Sarah E. Turner neighborhood.

Ald. Timothy Riley (Dist. 1), a resident of the neighborhood, had previously expressed outrage at the construction of any sidewalks in the area at the Jan. 28 meeting. Riley also led the discussion in October to remove funding for the sidewalks.

At the Feb. 11 meeting, Ald. Phil Caravello (D-2) asked to reconsider the Jan. 28 vote, but after the discussion, he ended up siding with the majority again. Any alder who votes with the majority can request reconsideration.

Riley called the area “a unique, bucolic little community sitting by itself” that is “not scarred by sidewalks,” and expressed fear that the older trees in the neighborhood would be removed or damaged if the sidewalk were constructed.

At one point, he appeared to question director of planning and development Rodney Scheel as though he were on a witness stand.

“I would like director Scheel to tell this body if he can guarantee mature trees will not be removed or damaged,” Riley said to Scheel.

“Of course not,” Scheel answered.

Ald. Regina Hirsch later called Riley’s questioning “kind of bullying” and said she thought Scheel was doing his job. Hirsch said Scheel might even be exposing the city to liability had he made such a guarantee.

At one point, the back and forth became so contentious that Swadley banged on his gavel and told Riley, “We need to maintain some order here.”

Ald. Tom Majewski (Dist. 3) said when he worked for the state, he had once audited facilities for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Majewski was absent for the 7-4 vote to remove funding for sidewalks in October.

Majewski said he’d learned, while doing that job, that everyone will be disabled at some point in their lives and will be in need of things like sidewalks that increase accessibility.

Ald. Matt Bartlett (Dist. 4) spoke about safety issues. Bartlett said Stoughton officials were always talking about needing to bring more young families to the city, but when he and his family had been looking for a home in Stoughton, they had avoided the {span}Sarah E. Turner{/span} neighborhood in part because it lacked sidewalks.

“Part of it is, we were looking for sidewalks so my kids could safely play in the front yard and walk, and walk to the school bus and ride their bikes and rollerblade safely and not have to do it in the street,” Bartlett said.

Renee Hickman can be contacted at renee.hickman@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @ReneeNHickman