Sidewalk ordinance hearing draws a crowd in E. Marlborough

Board tables ordinance, reassures that residents won’t have to pay; plans to save historic dwellings reviewed

By Karen Cresta, Correspondent, The Times


Although the Unionville village section of East Marlborough is one of the few areas in the township with sidewalks, residents expressed concern about a potential ordinance that would expand their construction around the township at a meeting Monday night. Supervisors agreed to table the ordinance and rework it to better meet their intention of seeking to have commercial properties build sidewalks in the future.

EAST MARLBOROUGH – A public hearing for the sidewalk construction and maintenance ordinance was held on Monday night at the East Marlborough Township building that lasted an hour and delayed the start of the Board of Supervisors’ monthly meeting.  Despite the stormy weather, the hearing drew a large crowd that spilled out into the foyer and hallway and packed the meeting room to its limits.  The regular meeting did not adjourn until well after 10:00 p.m.  Much time was also spent on the various plans to save an historic dwelling just outside of Unionville village.

The public hearing on the sidewalk ordinance 2015-04 was slighted on the agenda for 15 minutes but residents concerned about the ordinance and the costs that they could incur as homeowners posed many questions to the board about the authority given to them to regulate the construction and maintenance of sidewalks abutting public roads or highways within the township.

The construction requirements of the ordinance states, “Such sidewalks shall be graded and constructed by the owners of lots fronting thereon, in accordance with such specification and at such grade as shall be prescribed by separate and specific ordinance.  No person shall hereafter layout, construct or build any such sidewalk except in compliance with the terms of this ordinance and at the grade and in accordance with the specifications to be prescribed by the Township engineer as an addendum to any such ordinance prescribing construction of specific sidewalks.”

The designation of sidewalks to be constructed by the ordinance will be at the discretion of the board and written notice will be given “to the owners of property affected thereby to grade and construct said sidewalks along the street frontage of their respective properties, within a period of not less than ninety (90) days from the service of the notice…”

If the property owners fail to complete construction as required with the time period, “the Township Board of Supervisors shall cause a sidewalk in front of such property to be constructed in accordance with the requirements hereof, and the entire expense of construction, including engineering, grading, filling, paving and administration shall be and is hereby charged against such properties.”

The ordinance continues to assess the costs, non-payment, and collection procedures to the property owners. An administrative fee of ten percent will be added.  It states that if “property owners fail to make payment within thirty (30) days from the date of such bill, the same shall be collected against such property owners by commencement of suit in personam, and shall also constitute a lien in rem against said property, and a municipal claim therefore shall be filed by the Township solicitor.”

The limitation of liability is fifteen percent of the assessed property value.  Anything above that cost would be paid by the Township.

The property owners will be responsible for keeping the sidewalk in good order at all times and will have 24 hours to remove snow or ice has fallen or formed.  If violations occur, “the Township may assess a civil penalty not exceeding $1,000 for each violation.”  Failure to pay the penalty could result in an action brought before the District Justice.

The authority of the board to govern construction requirements of sidewalks, where to designate them, and the onus of the cost to property owners were the concerns of many residents who spoke up during the question portion of the hearing.  The vague and inconsistent language in a “poorly written” ordinance – as one resident put it- stated nothing about the board’s limitations.

“It scared the heck out of most of us,” stated the resident.

Another resident stated that “nothing suggests any particular location.”  He said that some sidewalks such as from Willowdale to Unionville Elementary make sense.  He recommended a study as to where sidewalks are needed.

“Homeowners have nowhere to pass the buck,” stated another concerned resident.  He said he would rather the onus be spread out among all the taxpayers than see some get hit with thousands of dollars individually.

Board of Supervisor Chairman Cuyler Walker assured the public that he understands that the ordinance struck a chord and that the board is aware it has raised concerns.

“Our intention is to take this back to the drawing board,” Walker said.  “We are happy to table this.  We are not in any rush,” he added.

Walker reassured the public -and spoke on behalf of all the board members- that no one on the board will charge homeowners and that only commercial entities and new development construction will be required to pay for sidewalks.  He said he was not sure why it never occurred to the board to add it to the ordinance but, “it will be the responsibility of the township to pay for residential sidewalks.”

The current version of the ordinance can be found on the township’s website at

It was back to regular business when the public meeting was called to order and after much of the crowd filed out of the building.  John Rosecrans, Chair of the Historic Commission, presented plans for saving the historic house and shed at 101 Poplar Tree Road located right outside of historic Unionville village.  The 1.7 acre lot includes a single family home built in 1900 and a small shed.

Rosecrans presented to the board the plan to save both of these historical resources and to subdivide the property into three lots while preserving the existing home but adding a modest addition to the back.  According to him, he already received the nod from the Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) and the Planning Commission with the stipulation of a shared driveway.  His intention was to get the township’s supervisors opinions on the variances needed based on lot size and set back requirements.

The board expressed concerns regarding changing the footprint of the historic structure and questioned the eligibility of including the small shed as a historical resource to use as another lot.  Some board members preferred only one lot be utilized but it was determined that the project should be within existing ordinances and variances defined and presented when ready.

In other news, the board announced that it will be taking part, along with the five other neighboring municipalities, in a consultant’s study to review operations and cost of emergency service providers.  The cost to each of the municipalities would be up to $5,000 for the consultant fees.  The board agreed with John Weer, Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company’s trustee, that they will indicate they want three different bids and not just one in order to fairly and properly appoint a consultant.  Walker assured Weer that the cost would not be taken from the fire tax funds.

The board approved the purchase of a new 2015 Ford Explorer to replace a 2004 Crown Victoria in need of repairs.  The more reliable vehicle will replace the older one that will be put up for bid and the third vehicle currently in use will be used as a back-up for the two police officers serving East Marlborough.

Some residents of La Reserve expressed the dangerous and loud situation in the township regarding fireworks being set off by residents and what can be done to make them compliant.  In addition, another resident added that Longwood Gardens’ firework displays are more frequent, longer in length, and increased in volume making it a noise nuisance.  Jane Laslo, Township Manager, agreed to make contact with Longwood to inform them of recent complaints and to send a broadcast letter to neighborhoods reminding those affected of the regulations.

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