Council tackles sidewalks issue


One emphatic yes and one emphatic no punctuated the Greencastle Borough Council discussion on sidewalk policies Jan. 7. The worksession was scheduled at 6 p.m. for two hours to allow council members to consider the issues that accompany establishing a new policy on any required sidewalks.

President Charles Eckstine explained that the current policy of making property owners install or repair curbs and sidewalks when a street was improved led to the meeting. The matter has been challenged by citizens, especially since Williamson Avenue was resurfaced in 2007. He wanted the policy more encompassing.

Craig Myers supported sidewalks throughout town, with very limited exceptions. "People walk more than we think," he said. "Route 11 and 16 are not safe because they have to walk on the road. If sidewalks are able to be put in, everyone should have it."

He believed pedestrian traffic would increase on 11 and 16 if sidewalks were installed. He added that to revitialize downtown, it had to be accessible to walkers.

Harry Foley opposed widespread sidewalks. "This is a unique community. Geographically, it has suburbs. West of Route 11 it is not easy for people to get downtown." He advocated requiring all properties within one block, or possibly two blocks, of Center Square to have curbs and sidewalks up to borough specifications by July 1.

The other council members philosophically supported sidewalks but found various levels of exceptions. Eckstine wanted people with steep yards to be excluded, citing a home on Williamson Avenue that would lose use of its garage if a sidewalk were created.

Mark Singer thought they were not possible in certain situations, which meant to treat each case justly would not necessarily be seen as fair by others.

Paul Schemel stressed, "Sidewalks are for moving pedestrians safely through the borough. Government can't be arbitrary and capricious, but it should do good planning. We should examine each street as it affects moving pedestrians." He acknowledged coming up with a policy would not be as simple as people expected.

Matthew Smith promoted sidewalks to a great degree. "People don't realize how many people use sidewalks. I'm an avid runner and see them." He supported starting at the square and branching throughout the rest of Greencastle, with some exceptions, but also wanted consistency in the policy.

Duane Kinzer mentioned people in the past who had to take down hedges and reslope their lawns to meet the borough ordinance, and it worked. He didn't want council to make the decision on who could avoid putting in sidewalks, but to establish an independent review board for the task.

Mayor Robert Eberly called sidewalks an easy decision, but curbs were the problem. New curbing would require stormwater management, and property owners couldn't take on that responsibility. When that issue was resolved, he supported sidewalks.

Where should sidewalks go?

On both sides of the discussion, the sidewalks in Heritage Estates West were referenced. Foley called them a 'big mistake', one that shouldn't be repeated. He noted people walked in the street and the driveways caused the sidewalks to not be level.

Kinzer and Smith disagreed. Kinzer thought as the community changed, the HEW sidewalks would be useful in the future and Smith saw many people using them on his runs.

Closer in town, several council members spoke of Carlisle Street North, Madison Street, and brick walkways as being in poor condition. Streets such as Walter, Moss Spring, the Orchards and Leitersburg did not have sidewalks at all. Because particular streets were not scheduled for repairs in coming years, they saw the current policy as not timely in getting unsafe sidewalks fixed or new ones installed.

During the worksession, which ran until 8:30, the board pondered several points: should sidewalks be incorporated into the community or should they be required only in certain parts, when should they be done, who handles maintenance and repair, what are the criteria for exceptions, and what should the specifications be?

The public spoke

Though the session was tailored to council discussion, residents of Greencastle were allowed to speak on the issue. Several were from South Ridge Avenue, which was improved in 2005.

Meaghan Connolley said, "We feel we were the experimental street for this process." She asked for fairness, without exemptions because of status or  residency. She and her mother gave examples that while they, on the west side of the street, had to put in new curbing and sidewalks, the homeowners on the east side, part of the Orchards development, did not have to. The Connolley sidewalk was three inches shy of the requirement, yet a neighbor with the same width of sidewalk did not have to do a replacement. Another homeowner with crumbling sidewalk has yet to replace it.

Jeanine Buzza was forced to pay to take down a tree when South Ridge was improved. She also had to pay for the curb but the people across the street didn't. "I shelled out, and did what you wanted me to do. What choice did we have? You were adamant," she said.

When Eckstine said the borough relied on its engineer recommendations, Buzza called that a "cop-out."

Connolley also said it was unsafe for schoolchildren to be walking in the streets of the Orchards and on Leitersburg.

Jim Thomas, 55 W. Baltimore Street, told the council to fix the loopholes in the policy and to look at the streets themselves. "If you won't enforce it, don't make an ordinance. Aren't you guys in charge?"

Foley said the sidewalk issue has been skirted for years, even as far back as the 1970s.

The council will host a community meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26 at Grace United Church of Christ, 128 E. Baltimore St.