Council sends sidewalk issue back to committee

PAT FRIDGEN

Greencastle residents will have to wait until May for any definitive action by Borough Council on a new sidewalk policy. A worksession Feb. 11 ended after two hours with the decision to have the Public Facilities Committee come up with a comprehensive plan and report back within 60 days. Members of the committee are chairman Craig Myers, Paul Schemel and Mark Singer.

Council president Charles Eckstine announced that the purpose of the worksession was to make progress on developing a policy for when residents install or repair sidewalks. Historically, that has been when a street is improved. The policy has been under fire from residents for several years, primarily from those who live on Williamson Avenue. 

Council took citizen comments at a community meeting Feb. 4. Williamson residents and many in the Orchard development, which has existed for 50 years, spoke against the requirement of sidewalks. Other residents who had abided by the requirements supported sidewalks and wanted fairness to prevail.

Borough manager Kenneth Womack composed a resolution effectively requiring Greencastle to become a walkable community, which meant sidewalks throughout. It was offered as a starting point for discussion.

Resolution highlights

The 'whereas' background stated, among other things, that the joint Comprehensive Plan with Antrim Township and the Greencastle-Antrim School District, soon to be adopted, encouraged safe connections between the school campus and destinations in the borough; council believed sidewalks offered safety for pedestrians and enhanced the health and welfare of citizens and benefited businesses; and the goal was to prevent undue hardships on property owners. The  prelude led to the 'therefore' resolution to adopt a policy that put sidewalks everywhere except where it was unsafe or unfeasible to do so. That determination would be made after a review by a Board of Appeals or on the recommendation of the borough's engineer.

Residential sidewalks would be installed sooner with new construction, upon any capital improvement over $20,000, when a property changed hands, and every sidewalk in town would be in place by Dec. 31, 2015.

The exceptions would relate to elevations that would make a sidewalk unfeasible, though curbing would still be required; if drainage patterns were affected; if PennDOT did not issue a needed permit; or if the sidewalk would create an unsafe situation.

Council could require curbs and sidewalks in commercial and industrial zones, allowing the same exemptions. The resolution called for Antrim Way property owners to follow suit after appropriate drainage was in place, if council desired.

Owners who disagreed with the policy would apply for a hearing with the Board of Appeals and continue on with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas if they did not like a decision.

Opinions

Schemel said he had changed his mind from wanting sidewalks everywhere to releasing streets where traffic was "slow and low." Though he had seen many people walking along U.S. 11, in unsafe conditions, he said sidewalks would wipe out parking for businesses. He disagreed with Womack's sample resolution, stating, "I believe in government doing the least."

Harry Foley supported Schemel, calling the area west of 11 a suburb. He doubted anyone would cross 11 to walk downtown because of the dangers.

Mayor Robert Eberly stressed that some people had no other means to get to the grocery stores except to walk, and he maintained all evening that finding a way to get people across the highway safely had to be a priority. He also advocated assuring the vitality of downtown by making it foot-traffic friendly.

H. Duane Kinzer agreed that Williamson was a challenge, but denied resident claims that a sidewalk along the state road led to nowhere. "Someday they will go somewhere when a development comes in."

Singer suggested a grandfather clause for old developments such as the Orchards, but new subdivisions should be required to install sidewalks, since they had the vacant land to utilize. Eberly said the only rationale the borough could use for new developments was for safety reasons.

"Sidewalks are safe," Singer said. "Fairness goes out the window when you put in a new residential subdivision."

Schemel countered, "Then the Orchards has room, too. If it doesn't make sense in one, then it doesn't make sense in the other."

Citizen Ron Nicarry, who lives in the Orchards, said curbs should always be along city streets, but not necessarily sidewalks. He asked for fairness and preferred no sidewalks in his neighborhood, but if he was convinced they were good for safety reasons, he would install them.

Matt Smith, like Schemel, had changed his mind after the community meeting. He had driven throughout the borough and decided some places would not benefit from sidewalks. He thought a third party could help determine which streets should have them.

An alternative

Schemel had worked on a diagram of borough streets, and offered that sidewalks should be required in some new places to help people move from one section of the borough to another. He recommended sidewalks for Williamson and Walter Avenue, north Carlisle Street, Linden Avenue south of Baltimore Street, north Jefferson Street to allow access to the Jerome R. King Playground, and Leitersburg Street. The parts of town without sidewalks would remain the Orchards, the Lohman Avenue area, Catherine-Town-and Wayburn streets, one block of East Madison Street, the northern-most block of Linden, Meadow View Circle, and the Baumgardner development.

Schemel asked that council come to a consensus one way or the other to end the "paralysis" in developing a workable policy. He said if it decided against the resolution requiring sidewalks, it could write a comprehensive plan with the borough engineer that would allow each street to be evaluated separately. He would support whichever position was taken by the majority.

The vote

Womack urged council to adopt a policy. He hoped they would not choose to determine sidewalks on a case by case basis. Kinzer moved to accept the proposed resolution, stating it was a good starting point. The motion died for lack of a second. Schemel moved to authorize the Public Facilities Committee to come up with a master plan and report back to council. After a second by Singer, it passed 6-0. Myers was absent.