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Sidewalk repairs a touchy subject in Greencastle

December 12, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The Borough of Greencastle may or may not require all, most or a select few property owners to repair or install sidewalks along their property, according to borough code.

However, for some borough officials, the word "may" in its ordinance just might be too flexible and not entirely fair when it comes to enforcing such a sensitive issue.

The Greencastle Borough Council has never officially established a hard line for maintaining and expanding pedestrian infrastructure, but a few members of the council are hoping to solve that problem in the new year.

The council will hold a workshop after the first of the year to establish a policy for when to require sidewalks be installed or repaired as well as criteria for determining which properties it will affect.

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Council President Charlie Eckstine said since the 1970s, the borough has operated under an unwritten rule that when it repaves a street, it also requires property owners to repair or install sidewalks and curbs.

It was not until a few years ago that the council realized the danger in not having a formal policy.

Eckstine said in 2006, the council decided to repave Williamson Avenue and, as per the unofficial rule, put sidewalks on the older street. But when residents started to raise concerns of hardship, he said the borough realized its unofficial rule wasn't going to cut it.

The unwritten rule has left the council open to decide, case by case, which property owners it will require to repair or install sidewalks, and as enforcer of the policy, Borough Manager Ken Womack said that is too much latitude.

Womack explained that while the current standard for dealing with sidewalk repair and installation is unofficial, it is not unwritten.

In the spring, Womack said he came across a document titled "Curb/Sidewalk Construction Policy" on his computer.

What he could not find was a record that the council adopted it.

The draft policy follows what Eckstine said has been the process all along, but it makes clear that the requirements apply to "each property along a street schedule to be resurfaced or reconstructed."

Eckstine said after learning of the hardship installing sidewalks would have caused homeowners on Williamson Avenue, he is not certain the blanket requirement in the draft policy, applicable to every borough property owner, is the answer.

Councilman Harry Foley lives on one of the few borough streets that do not have sidewalks and said the problem will not be so easily solved.

"This is a true dilemma with a capital, capital D," Foley said. "It is a matter of safety."

It is also a matter of fairness, said Eckstine, who has been on the council for 15 years.

Womack said the problem is really two separate matters.

"There is the question of repairing existing sidewalks and then there is the question of putting in new sidewalks," he said. "It is both a matter of safety and fairness."

While the question of whether or not to require new sidewalks tends to be the more controversial issue, Womack said he thinks both can be solved with one policy.

For property owners like Foley who have not had a sidewalk along their property, Foley said establishing a solid policy would take the burden of deciding which streets will get new sidewalks out of the "unqualified" hands of council.

"We ourselves are not qualified to say where or where not to require sidewalks and there are too many exceptions that can be made because our ordinance says 'may'," he said.

Foley said the council has sought professional advice from its engineer Fred Frederick of Frederick Siebert and Associates for establishing the policy.

Womack said Frederick suggested alternatives to a blanket policy, including requiring homeowners to put in sidewalks if they apply for a building permit or if they sell the property.

Other alternatives include having an appeals board for those who feel it would be an undue hardship to install sidewalks, or feel it would compromise rather than encourage safety.

The council has yet to set a date for the workshop.

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