Township Council Green-Lights Sidewalk Program Around FMS

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker, foreground, speaks to the Township Council about the proposed sidewalk program.

The Township Council gave the green light March 7 to a sidewalk program that will affect about 150 property owners around Franklin Middle School.

The council met in a special session to consider the project, during which a number of area residents spoke in favor of or against the plan.

The $750,000 program will install new sidewalks on parts of four streets: Belmar and Dutton streets and Girard and Hillcrest avenues.

Public Service Electric & Gas has been asked to move nine utility poles; the project cannot start until those poles have been moved. Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said that bid specifications would be prepared as soon as the township receives a commitment from PSEG about moving the poles.

A number of trees will also have to be removed, Vornlocker said, adding that “we have the ability to replace the trees we remove.”

He said the project should take about 75 days.

The money was included in the township’s 2016 capital budget, and was seen as funding the first phase of sidewalk installation in the township, Vornlocker said.

The project has been championed by Deputy Mayor Carl R.A. Wright. Wright said he was convinced of the need for sidewalks when he nearly drove into some children who were walking in the street as he turned a corner.

“If it could happen to me, it could happen to someone else,” he said. “I’m 100 percent in the tank for sidewalks.”

Sidewalk installation can be a volatile topic because once the sidewalks are finished, they become the property owner’s responsibility to maintain and repair. The sidewalks are also included in property tax assessments, but Mayor Phil Kramer calculated that under the current tax rate, a 100-foot sidewalk would add about $80 to the average property tax bill.

Resident sentiment at the meeting was about evenly split for and against the sidewalks.

“It just comes out of the blue,” said Girard Avenue resident Roger Griffin. “I can remember when this was a dirt road. I don’t see the benefit for me or my neighbors.”

Greg Richardson, also a Girard Avenue resident, said children don’t walk on the sidewalks that are provided now.

“You should use this money for something else,” he said. “Most of the residents on Girard are senior citizens; when it snows, they’re going to have to shovel their sidewalks, and if they don’t, you will fine them.”

“Put sidewalks on Route 27 from Churchill up to Veronica,” he said. “More people walk there than on Girard, and it’s more dangerous.”

Ty-Wanna Cotten of Girard Avenue said the sidewalks “are for the children of Franklin.”

“Many children use Girard Avenue as their walkway to and from school,” she said. “It’s a speedway.”

James Simmons of Hillcrest Avenue said he would “pay more taxes to bring one kid back that was killed. On my street, even the buses go by at 50 miles per hour, it’s just a matter of time before another kid gets killed.”

“I would shovel snow, and I’m 77 years old, to save a kid’s life,” he said. “We need sidewalks there.”

Township Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) said he was concerned about the safety aspect of the project. He said many people will have to park their cars in the street while the concrete is being poured and curing.

“We’ll have to accommodate that,” he said.

He also said there were some corners in the project area where people have become used to driving over the grass, rather than staying on the road, when making a turn.

“We have to be mindful,” he said, “when you have a corner that’s considered a piece of the roadway.”

Vornlocker said the police will ensure the construction areas are properly marked and coned off.

“The truth of the matter is, without the sidewalks, those children are in the street, which puts them in a far more dangerous position than if they’re on the sidewalk,” Vornlocker said.

“No child is expendable,” Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) said. “That is the motivating factor, the safety of our children.”

“This is about adults, too,” Wright said. “Some adults walk the street for exercise. So when they walk in the street and they’re in the middle of the street, that’s a concern because they can’t get out of the way fast.”

Vornlocker said the project has to be completed some time between April and the end of October.

“That’s the time from for concrete work to take place,” he said. “Ideally, you like to do these jobs in the summer” when children are out of school.

Vornlocker said the contractor will replace anything that is moved or damaged, so long as it is not in the public right-of-way. He said if a property owner has a fence in a right-of-way, it will be removed and not replaced.

Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) said he’d like to see some tax relief for property owners who have sidewalks He said it didn’t seem fair that the property owner would have to bear the burden of maintaining the sidewalk and the extra hit to their property assessment.

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