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Notice to fix curbs, walks irks some

January 09, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

Sidewalks usually have a purpose, but William J. Shaffer said he sees no reason to put a sidewalk around his Hagerstown property.

Shaffer and his wife, Shirley, live on a cliff, with little room at the bottom for a curb, let alone a sidewalk. They also live on a circle, Oxford Circle in the West End.

"Where would the sidewalk go?" the retired couple asked.

Hagerstown City Council members have been debating whether to change the city's curb and sidewalk policy or enforce it - all of it.

The city code says owners of property adjacent to public sidewalks must install and maintain sidewalks, but the city only enforces the maintenance aspect.

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Property owners with broken sidewalks are ordered to do repairs or risk being charged with a misdemeanor, but property owners without sidewalks are not ordered to build them. The installation of sidewalks is required only for new construction.

The city takes about six to eight people a year to Washington County District Court for sidewalk violations, said Dave Moulton, construction inspector. He has never seen anyone go to jail or even have to pay a fine.

After a day in court, the defendant usually gets the sidewalk fixed and the city doesn't press the matter further, Moulton said.

Under the city code, the maximum penalty for a sidewalk violation can be a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail, according to the city inspections office. The violator could be penalized $1,000 for each day the violation exists.

Replacing or building sidewalks can cost several hundred dollars.

Moulton said he prefers to work with people rather than issue fines, which can be counterproductive if people are trying to raise money to fix the sidewalk.

Residents can have 1 1/2 to two years to fix the sidewalk before they get a notice to appear in court, Moulton said.

Mary Munson, 46, wants to know why she would have to build a sidewalk when the property near the West First Street curb is part of her side yard. She plans to put a fence along there this summer to keep dogs from an area where her grandchildren play.

Munson already has paid $500 to fix a small part of her front sidewalk and curb along Chestnut Street.

"It's supposed to be public right of way. So why should we fix it?" she asked.

Installing a sidewalk on the other side would cost more than $1,000, Munson said.

Munson said a lot of city properties need sidewalks. "So who's going to pay for that? The taxpayers," she said.

The cost of building sidewalks along city property is an issue the council must consider since much city-owned property, such as the Hagerstown Industrial Park, has no sidewalks.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said it would be ridiculous to require every property to have a curb and sidewalk.

"It could affect future home sales in our city," Boyer said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said if the council is going to tell anyone without curb and sidewalk to put it in, they better be ready to tell everyone.

Metzner said he knew it didn't make good sense, but three years ago the council told residents of a neighborhood to install curbs and sidewalks and a revolt started.

Looking at a map of the city that outlines in red those properties without curb and sidewalk, Metzner said he prefers the status quo.

"If you tell everyone in red to put in curb and sidewalk, don't expect to be re-elected," Metzner said.

Councilman William M. Breichner said he received a complaint about a street in the South End with no sidewalks, causing children to walk up the middle of the street when there is snow and ice.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said St. Clair Street has sidewalks and the kids still walk in the street.

Metzner said he wouldn't support forcing property owners to install sidewalk citywide, but would support a sensible plan.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said he wanted feedback from property owners about the policy.

Some property owners are as divided over the issue as the council.

Christine Wolford, 40, said two years ago her family paid $1,200 to replace sidewalks in front of their 835-837 Chestnut St. duplex.

Wolford said people should have to maintain the sidewalk so people don't fall, get hurt and sue.

But while the city tells property owners it's their responsibility to fix and clean up sidewalks, they tell them it's illegal to reserve a parking space in front of their home after shoveling snow just to make a space, she said.

"It's like it's yours and it's like it's not yours," Wolford said.

Her husband, Frederick, 54, said people who don't have sidewalks should have to build them. It costs the same to replace or build new, he said.

Thomas Miller, 55, said installing sidewalk in front of his 300 Vale St. home is unnecessary because there isn't a lot of foot traffic. Vale Street is between Jefferson Boulevard and the entrance to the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex.

As for the Shaffers and their home up on the cliff, City Engineer Bruce Johnston said it would be difficult to install a sidewalk in that area and reasonable people wouldn't require one.

If a property owner who receives a notice to repair or install a sidewalk thinks the notice is overzealous, it can be appealed to Washington County Circuit Court, Johnston said.

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