Oxford Borough Council to consider changes to sidewalk ordinance
By Steven Hoffman
Sidewalks are once again a topic of discussion in Oxford Borough, and it appears as if officials could soon decide to make changes to some of the regulations in the sidewalk ordinance to address ongoing concerns.
Oxford officials have long wanted safe, well-maintained sidewalks throughout the borough for residents and visitors, and the sidewalk ordinance that is currently on the books was intended to increase the walkability in the borough. But there have been instances where the regulations in the sidewalk ordinance have been harsh or unfair to property owners.
At the June 20 meeting, the borough heard from John Costick, the owner of a home on Mt. Vernon Street who is seeking relief from the sidewalk ordinance. Costick is in the process of selling his home, and the potential buyer was also in attendance at the meeting. Under the regulations of the ordinance, sidewalks would be required to be installed on Mt. Vernon Street and Hillside Drive before the transaction could be completed. Hillside Drive is a dead-end street that leads to a private drive. Costick also pointed out that Hillside Drive is not on the borough's master sidewalk plan.
The intent of the borough's sidewalk ordinance is to ensure that sidewalks are installed throughout the borough so that one day all the sidewalks will connect to each other and pedestrians can walk safely anywhere they want. However, there are some properties in the borough where installing sidewalks makes much less sense. When property owners are required to install sidewalks that lead to nowhere, borough officials are challenged to enforce the sidewalk ordinance.
Borough officials have said that they want to enforce the sidewalk ordinance in the fairest way possible to all property owners, and they have had off-and-on discussions with the borough's solicitor on ways to improve the regulations for the last few years. The request by Costick for relief from the sidewalk ordinance has prompted borough officials to prioritize making changes to the sidewalk ordinance.
“We've been dealing with the sidewalk issue for many years,” said council member Susan Lombardi, who serves on the Codes Committee that is frequently tasked with having some of the discussions about how the ordinance should be interpreted in a case-by-case basis. “There are extreme problems with our current ordinance. I struggle every time on the sidewalk ordinance. We need to make it right.”
To that end, the borough council authorized the advertisement of a public hearing to discuss some possible amendments to the sidewalk ordinance. Council also directed the Codes Enforcement Office not to enforce the existing sidewalk ordinance, including the regulation that requires property owners to have sidewalks installed before the sale of a property, pending the hearing on the new ordinance that is scheduled on Aug. 8. Until that public hearing, the Codes Committee will hold a meeting each month to discuss the sidewalk regulations. If residents or property owners have thoughts about the sidewalk ordinance, now is the time to share them.
The borough is not repealing its entire sidewalk ordinance, but will instead consider some changes to certain portions of the ordinance.
John Thompson, the council vice president, said that he is concerned that the borough required others—including Flowers Foods—to install sidewalks in the last few years, even though in some instances those sidewalks do not connect to other sidewalks. He worried that it might not be fair to those property owners if the borough now stops enforcing the sidewalk regulations.
Lombardi, however, said that she has serious reservations about keeping the requirement to install sidewalks in all instances, whether it makes sense to have them or not.
“I don't think it's fair to spend our borough residents' money on sidewalks that lead to nowhere,” Lombardi said. “I don't know how we can justify that.”
Council member Randy Grace pointed out that none of these possible changes that would be under consideration relates to sidewalk repairs. Sidewalks still need to be repaired and maintained to ensure the public's safety.
“We've got to do the right thing moving forward,” Grace said, explaining that this is the beginning of another conversation about sidewalks, not the end of one.
In other business at the June 20 meeting, Artie Anderson, the borough’s treasurer, was appointed to serve as interim borough manager, the borough secretary, the right-to-know officer, and several other positions until a new borough manager is named. Council members offered their sincere gratitude to Anderson for serving in these roles until a new borough manager is named.
Borough council member Gary Tozzo offered an update about the search for a new borough manager. Tozzo explained that the borough advertised the vacancy that was created when Betsy Brantner retired from the position effective in mid-June. Approximately 20 people initially applied for the position, and five people were called for interviews. Two of those candidates were called back for second interviews. Tozzo said that that's where the search stands currently, and there could be further developments in the search process in the coming weeks. The borough undertook the search after seeking input from its solicitor and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.
Borough council voted to remove Richard Hannum as its representative on the Oxford Area Sewer Authority Board because of non-attendance at meetings. Council then appointed Randy Teel, a business owner and a former council member, to serve in that role.