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Should Narberth Homeowners Fix Sidewalks?

The borough has notified dozens of residents they must mitigate tripping hazards by late October.

Narberth’s government is inspecting every stretch of sidewalk in the borough and, as a result, informing some homeowners they need to make improvements for safety reasons.

Borough Manager Bill Martin said at Monday’s council meeting that the inspection process is nearly complete, with an effort organized alphabetically having reached the ‘W’ streets. Notices to residents asked that the uneven sidewalks be fixed within 45 days and included references for contractors that could do the work.

Council support for the program varied from member to member.

“We’re asking a lot of residents to spend a lot of money to make changes in a fairly quick period of time,” said Councilman Bob Wegbreit, who identified himself as one of the residents who received a notice. “I’ve looked at many locations that were cited; most of [the sidewalk disruptions] appear to be from street trees. I’ve never heard of anyone tripping, or of any reports on that. I’d like to see us take back these notices and look at this a bit more holistically, maybe hire a company to fix some of these that are not outlandish.”

Councilman Michael Alexander responded, “As someone who walks with a stroller down these sidewalks, I can say especially on the south side there are a lot of bumps. I don’t know how someone in a wheelchair would do it.”

Council Vice President Aaron Muderick, too, called the damaged sidewalks “a barrier to access.”

Another concern of Wegbreit’s was that street trees might fall or be cut down in the course of sidewalk repair, “and people will get frustrated and won’t replant. We’ve stated very clearly we want street trees.”

“We’ve never lost a tree yet” in that fashion, Martin told Wegbreit. The last sidewalk inspection was in 2003, he said.

Assistant borough manager Fred Hansell—who has already fixed the sidewalk in front of his own house, Martin said—told council members that Bartlett Tree Experts of Bala Cynwyd helped modify root systems on particularly problematic Narberth trees  this summer.

Councilwoman Andrea Deutsch allowed that bad sidewalks need attention, as “some are minor and some are significant.” But she hesitated at the 45-day time frame.

“Is that too fast?” Deutsch asked.

“I think it is,” replied Councilwoman Heidi Boise, “if they’re not going to get assistance from the borough.”

The borough has established no penalty for failing to comply with the 45-day time frame, Martin said. He reported only one complaint by phone about the notices—though Wegbreit and Deutsch said they have heard others—and added, “We’ve had a number of permits already taken out.”

Borough officials will help residents find a contractor to do the work, or consult with them about how they might do it themselves.

“Seems like a lot of these could be solved by grinding away the corners,” Alexander said.

evelyn September 13, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Talk about homeowners! Look at the sidewalks on Haverford Avenue along all of the store fronts. Law suits are just waiting to happen. I have tripped over them several times. The trees have uprooted the sidewalks and not a soul has mentioned the problem. You want homeowners to redo their sidewalks which happen to be in better shape than those in the business district. You require a new patch for a mere change in the surface. Been there....done that! I understand that not all are equal but let's play fair. evelyn
Jules Beganis September 13, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I think all homeowners should take responsibility for the sidewalks outside of their homes. It creates accountability.
Michael Alexander September 13, 2012 at 02:12 PM
John Barry, that might work, depending on the precise situation. I've also seen it work where you use a big saw to slice off a corner of the block that has been pushed up. A permit is only required to replace a block, not to repair a block. Evelyn, the sidewalks in front of the businesses were all redone a few years ago as part of the downtown revitalization. Where exactly are these trip hazards? Fed Up - no, sorry. The sidewalks go through an even more thorough check-up when a house changes ownership, so this work must be done eventually anyway. Isn't it better to make sidewalks in our Borough safe and accessible now, rather than wait for houses to change hands?
John Murray September 15, 2012 at 12:55 PM
I got a notice to fix a sidewalk hole that we have been procrastinating and am fine with it (apparently could use the motivation!). But on our street, the biggest impediment to motility is bushes and hedges on multiple properties that have grown across most or all of the sidewalk width. Is this part of the program as well?
tree lover October 15, 2012 at 03:09 AM
While I fully understand the need to provide accessible paths to the front doors of all public buildings I am concerned that this sidewalk inspection and more specifically its time limit is going to result in the loss of numerous street trees in the town of Narberth. Narberth typically has been, or so I thought, a community that likes to describe itself as a town which has beautiful streetscapes, particularly its tremendous amount of canopy trees, which distinguish it from other neighborhoods. At Montgomery Court Apartments we have just been notified that three trees, honey locusts which provide significant shade, clean air and habitat for birds, shall be cut down the week of October 15 to accommodate the required repairs to the sidewalks!!! As a landscape architect I know there are solutions to both maintaining a tree and repairing a sidewalk but these solutions take thought and time - the 45 day time limit will be difficult for businesses and homeowners to pursue these more careful solutions. Plus there does not seem to be any provision for the replacement of the trees that are removed with new trees of a species and caliper that is appropriate. We will be left with concrete only and if one were to plant a new tree even at 3-4" caliper it will likely take more than a decade regain the canopy we currently have!!!

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