Cracked, uneven, and pitted sidewalks in central Amherst will be the first targeted by city officials in a multi-year repair campaign.
An engineering firm has identified 113 addresses where sidewalk repairs or replacements are needed.
The list includes properties along Cleveland, Tenney, Cross, and Franklin avenues, Woodhill Drive, and Jackson, Mill, Spring, Pearl, Forest, and Park streets.
Letters are expected to go out to those homes and businesses where there are “defective and/or hazardous conditions,” giving 60 days for sidewalks to be remedied. They’ll be mailed sometime in late May, pending several Amherst city council votes in coming weeks.
A resolution working its way through the council process says engineers found sidewalks jutting up more than half an inch, causing tripping dangers or wheelchair accessibility issues; cracks and holes wider than an inch; fragments of torn-up concrete; settled areas that trap water; tree root damage; and other various safety concerns.
Law director Tony Pecora cautioned council members Monday not to fast-track votes on the sidewalk issue, saying it needs to go through three formal readings on the floor before passage. That’s because it’s a bill that will directly require residents to dig into their pockets to comply, he reasoned.
“This is going to be a tough decision. People are going to be fans of it and people are not going to be fans of it. I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing, moving forward appropriately,” agreed councilman Chuck Winiarski.
The city will allow property owners to repair or replace the sidewalks themselves, hire a contractor, or have the city complete the job.
There is no permit fee for sidewalk repairs, building inspector David Macartney said. He does a pre-pour inspection, which is also free.
The city cannot recommend a contractor, but it can provide a list of companies registered with the building department. Nor can Macartney show people how to do sidewalk repairs — but he said he gives “friendly advice” to folks on a daily basis.
There will be an appeal process for exceptional circumstances. Formal written objections can be made to council clerk Linda Turley.
Council president John Dietrich said two of the affected homeowners are deceased, with their estates in transition. They are prime candidates for appeals.
A few properties are bank-owned and a few are commercial. They will be required to make repairs just like homeowners, with letters going to the owner of record, according to assistant law director Frank Carlson.
Amherst has a tax on the books for street repairs, so residents aren’t assessed when repaving is done in front of their homes. No such tax exists for sidewalk repairs, though.
Since 1962, a city ordinance has required homeowners to cover the expense of sidewalk maintenance.
Councilman Phil Van Treuren pointed out that the sidewalk law doesn’t make any money for the city. In fact, enforcing it costs the city money and creates extra work.
“This is not a way that the city’s going to be making money off of the residents,” he said.
Van Treuren also said this is just the first round of sidewalk repairs Amherst will mandate. The plan is to eventually require everyone with damaged sidewalks to bring them into compliance with code.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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