After more than a year of debate, Macungie Borough Council approved a new sidewalk ordinance that the borough manager says is both reasonable in what it expects of residents and defendable in court.
With Councilman David Boyko dissenting, council voted 6-1 Monday to pass the law which regulates where and how sidewalks should be constructed or repaired. It also sets out an appeals process for homeowners who feel they should get a waiver because “unique physical circumstances make the installation of sidewalks an undue hardship” or the lack of sidewalks wouldn’t affect public safety.
It will be up to the new council, which will be sworn in Jan. 3, to develop policies to implement the ordinance, according to Borough Manager Chris L. Boehm.
“I think this is definitely going to work because it’s defendable,” Boehm said. She sparked the sidewalk debate more than a year ago when the borough was resurfacing streets that didn’t have sidewalks and she asked council if it would require them.
Residents -- some of whom didn’t want to install sidewalks because of the expense and maintenance -- weighed in and a committee of six people was formed to study the issue.
Boehm said she felt the draft ordinance the committee produced was fair, especially considering five of the panel members might have to put in sidewalks on their properties as a result of the new ordinance.
The law requires sidewalks:
-- in the town center zoning district
-- along the perimeter of any property that abuts a school, library, community center, fire or police station, hospital, park and playground
-- on streets that are classified as collector or arterial streets where the speed limit exceeds 25 mph
-- on streets that extend from a collector or arterial street to a public place, such as a school or park.
Council specifically excluded roads where the speed limit is 15 mph or less because it wanted to exempt alleys, Boehm said.
She heard from residents who argued against sidewalks on their block, claiming "nobody walks there."
That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – nobody walks on some of streets because there are no sidewalks to do it safely, Boehm said. The sidewalks that already exist get plenty of use. “People in this town walk a lot,” she said.
Several years ago, Emmaus ran into trouble with its sidewalk ordinance, which was challenged in court by residents. Lehigh County Court found that the law was flawed because it did not have specific provisions for handling exemptions, according to The Morning Call.
Macungie’s solicitor worked on the borough’s ordinance to remove vague language that would be open to interpretation.
One provision that’s expected to drive up the cost of installing sidewalks has to do with updated regulations emanating from the Americans with Disabilities Act; ramps at the end of sidewalks are required to have much less of a slope than the old regulations allowed. “The new design has increased the cost,” she said.