Sidewalk ordinance draws big crowd in East Marlborough
● By J. Chambless
The East Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors learned on Monday night that if they want to draw an overflow crowd of residents, all they have to do is draft an ordinance that mentions mandatory sidewalks in the township.
The meeting room and lobby at the township building were packed with concerned residents on June 1 after the Sidewalk Construction and Maintenance Ordinance was posted on the township's website for public review and became a flashpoint for families who thought the document was requiring sidewalks to be built throughout the township, at the expense of property owners.
Board chairman Cuyler Walker, opening the public hearing at 6:45 p.m., stood up and reassured the crowd.
“I apologize that you all came out for this on a rainy night, because the perception that the ordinance is giving you is dramatically different from anything this board is considering,” he said. “This board is not considering anything that would require universal sidewalks to be constructed by property owners around the township. If I heard that's what the township board was proposing, I would be furious, and I would think they they are absolutely wacky and should be thrown out of office,” he said as the crowd laughed. “Let me assure you, the last thing that we're talking about tonight is any mandate that people have to build sidewalks in front of their properties.”
The ordinance, drafted by township solicitor Frone Crawford, is modeled on similar ordinances statewide, and is intended to be used primarily when property owners balk at installing sidewalks that have been required by the township. It specifies width and materials to be used, and also contains rules about clearing sidewalks of snow and ice.
“I had felt that the township was somewhat remiss in not having a sidewalk ordinance,” Crawford said in his explanation to the crowd. “Most of the municipalities in Chester County that have any form of suburbanization have these ordinances. We were one of the few that did not. I drafted this and presented it to the board for consideration. The ordinance covers something that is quite rare, but very necessary, if the board were to exercise their authority at some point.”
As a second class township, East Marlborough already has the power to mandate sidewalk construction under state law, Walker said. Conceivably, that could extend to forcing homeowners to pay to put in sidewalks or face penalties – but that has never happened and is extremely unlikely to happen, he said.
In the case of the long-proposed sidewalk along Route 82 near the village of Unionville, “If a sidewalk is built there, it is the township's responsibility to pay for it,” Walker said. “It would be outrageous to ask individual homeowners to pay for that. I think I'm speaking for all five of us on the board that we believe the township is responsible for that.”
Walker said the adoption of the sidewalk ordinance is aimed at “a commercial property at the end of School House Road, between Walmart and Route 1” that has a sidewalk only halfway to Walmart. He did not name the business. “As a result, people now walk to the end of the sidewalk and step out onto School House Road,” Walker said. “It's really creating a safety hazard. We're not even prepared to require a sidewalk be put in there at this point, however. There is no consideration or intent to require sidewalks be put on any residential property.”
Crawford admitted that the wording of the ordinance did give the impression that sidewalks were being put in at the expense of homeowners, and he apologized. “We're trying to bring East Marlborough into alignment with code,” he said. “This is not intended to be a sneak attack on residents, believe me.”
The ordinance was intended to make sidewalk construction in the township uniform, specifying width, materials and grading, and to setting parameters for clearing and maintaining existing sidewalks.
“I think the board clearly has gotten the message,” Walker told the crowd. “We will certainly take this back to the drawing board and come up with something that is clearer, and makes it absolutely apparent that we're not expanding any authority of the township beyond what already exists in the second class township code. We're happy to table this. I see this more as a procedural matter that, sooner or later, the township should address. We will absolutely work on this further.”
After the sidewalk ordinance was clarified, the crowd decreased significantly as the regular board meeting began at around 8 p.m., instead of 7 p.m.
During public comment, several residents complained about the increasing volume and duration of fireworks shows at Longwood Gardens. The shows used to be about 10 minutes long, but have become more like half-hour presentations, they said, with more concussive fireworks “that make it sound like a war zone,” one resident told the board. “The whole house was shaking.”
Township manager Jane Laslo said Longwood has been very responsive to past problems, and “I'm sure if we write and tell them there have been some complaints, they will comply with making changes,” she said.
Another resident complained about her neighbors having backyard fireworks, mentioning both the noise and the debris that falls into her yard. Police Chief Robert Clarke was at the meeting and told the resident that, since she knows which homeowners are setting off the fireworks, he would stop at the home and remind them that such large fireworks are illegal in Pennsylvania.
There was a lengthy discussion about plans to preserve two historic structures at 101 Wollaston Road in the township – a house and a back yard shed that are the focus of preservation efforts involving the Historic Commission. John Rosencrans, the chair of the Historic Commission, outlined several ideas for the property, focusing on a plan that would add to the historic building to make it attractive to buyers, and put up two new, small homes on the adjacent land to help pay for the restoration.
The board was unsure if the zoning in the area would permit having three homes on the land, and agreed to study the issue further.
Late in the meeting, Chief Clarke addressed the board about replacing one of the township's police vehicles. The purchase was budgeted for this year. The oldest vehicle is a 2004 Crown Victoria with 121,000 miles on it. Clarke said the starter has problems, the roof lights have been replaced, and the headlights are unreliable, so the car can be driven only in the daytime. The car was purchased in 2008 for about $2,500. Clarke suggested purchasing a 2015 vehicle and upgrading it to necessary standards, at a cost of $35,552. He also suggested adding a VASCAR speed detecting unit, at a cost of about $1,500. The board agreed to the purchase, with the exception of member Robert Weer, Sr., who felt that the purchase was not necessary. Board member Eddie Caudill pointed out that the money was within the township's budget, “and this is $10,000 under the budgeted figure,” he said.
The 2004 car will be put up for sale. The spare vehicle in the fleet will now be a 2005 car with 109,000 miles on it. The township has two officers and three vehicles, with one car being kept as a spare in case of emergencies.
Finally, Walker introduced a proposal to pursue a consultant study of local emergency service providers. “Several municipalities in the region are reviewing operations and costs of emergency services, particularly ambulance services,” Walker said. “Six surrounding municipalities are recommending that we work with consultants to give us their thoughts on a direction to insure that we provide emergency services in the best manner.”
Walker said $5,000 should be set aside as East Marlborough's contribution to the consultant study. John Weer, a trustee at the Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company, addressed the board, saying that three area fire chiefs are “concerned about the lives and property of the residents that we cover as Po-Mar-Lin. Kennett Borough went with the recommendation of the fire chiefs to support the funding of this, however, to not support the lone individual who put a bid in for this. They support going out and getting at least three bids with three different consultants.
"Po-Mar-Lin has not had any say in any of this," Weer continued. "We were just brought into this three weeks ago. We understood this was just for EMS and now, all of a sudden, fire's involved. We're concerned about our future.”
Walker welcomed opening the consulant search to other firms, and the board approved the expenditure. Further bids will be sought.
For more information on township business, visit www.eastmarlborough.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.