Ebensburg residents say no sidewalks

EBENSBURG — Seats reserved for audience members were full Monday evening inside Ebens­burg Borough Council chambers.

About two dozen residents gathered to express disgust with plans to install sidewalks along borough roads, specifically on East Sample Street.

“You are not going to make everybody happy with this,” one concerned resident said, directing the comment to council.

Last month, a majority of council members voted to pay L.R. Kimball $43,125 for sidewalk design work as part of a plan to address problem sidewalks and, in some cases, to install sidewalks where they currently do not exist.

Completing all sidewalk work at one time could be cheaper because of the larger scale, Borough Manager Dan Penatzer said.

Borough officials said the entire project would cost about $1.77 million for the replacement of 8,740 square yards of sidewalk and 21,405 linear feet of curb.

But the residents of Sample Street do not want a sidewalk, which is a point that they conveyed adamantly at the meeting.

The residents gathered stressed that sidewalks are not needed along the road, which they said receives little foot traffic.

As of Monday, it was unclear on which side of the street a sidewalk would be installed, but it was clear that the sidewalk will require the destruction of landscaping, and possibly retaining walls, despite which side is chosen, officials said.

Resident Michael Oswatt was the lone audience member speaking out against sidewalk installation along North Caroline Street.

The sidewalk, he said, hasn’t been necessary for more than a century.

“The residents don’t want it,” he said.

Oswatt also said sidewalk installation could result in the loss of driveways, including his.

Council Vice President Susan Barber explained that is because the minimum length of a driveway is regulated by the borough, and the installation of sidewalks could put some existing driveways below that minimum.

However, that problem is somewhat rare, Penatzer said.

“There isn’t five of them in the entire project,” he said, noting he still feels for those who will be affected.

Councilman Scot May, who abstained from last month’s vote because he works for L.R. Kimball, criticized the entire sidewalk project, which is much farther reaching than just Sample and Caroline streets.

He said affected streets were not selected as part of a study but instead by a few people “walking with clipboards.”

“We don’t have enough intuition to arbitrarily pick sidewalks,” he said.

Multiple borough officials, including council members, argued that the plan can still be changed and “is not set in stone.” The pun became a cliche of the night.

Other residents argued that the sidewalk project’s timing, immediately following a sewer project that requires residents to pay for private pipes, is problematic.

The sidewalk project also will require property owners to fork over funds. Of the $1.77 million estimated cost, the borough would pay $986,750, and the remaining cost would be paid by affected property owners.

“All affected property owners are assessed approximately one-half the cost of work performed at a property,” according to an information sheet distributed in May.

Councilman Dave Kuhar admitted that the two projects requiring property-owner expenses may be excessive.

“I think the timing needs to be looked at,” he said. “It’s difficult to go back to the same well too many times.”

Still, Penatzer stressed the importance of installing curbs as public roads are repaired following the sewer project. Neither residents in attendance nor borough officials opposed curb installation, which they said would help with stormwater issues.

A series of public sidewalk project meetings have been held, and Penatzer said they were well attended.

He also floated the idea of sending surveys to Sample Street residents to get a larger pool of opinions on sidewalk installation.

Councilwoman Theresa Jacoby said opinions expressed Monday should not be ignored.

“What are our options?” she asked.

Audience members were thanked for their input, and officials said the issue would be further explored.

“There is a lot of input, and we’ll see what we get in the end,” Penatzer said.