Residents along Frost Street had a clear message for members of the Southington Town Council Monday evening: we do not want the town’s decaying property.
A concerned group of nearly two-dozen came before the council Monday evening, expressing anger that the town would place the liability associated with the neighborhood’s 40-year-old sidewalks in the hands of the residents despite a promise years ago that the town would maintain responsibility indefinitely.
“The rights of sidewalk ordinance was established in 1970, and the town said it would put in and maintain responsibility for the sidewalks forever,” said Robert Peterson, resident of Frost Street. “The decision was made because of Strong Elementary School opening and the council confirmed would maintain them in snow removal forever...the town should be honoring agreement made in 1970 until Strong Elementary School closes.”
The concerns were raised during a public hearing at the council meeting into changes proposed to town ordinances.
As part of the ordinance review, Councilwoman Cheryl Lounsbury said a committee looked to update language for several ordinances, including one that addressed town liabilities and responsibilities for sidewalks used as school access ways.
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Lounsbury said the town approached the Board of Education to obtain a current list of schools and eliminate town responsibilities in areas that are no longer used for school purposes, such as at the old Marion Schoolhouse or the former North Center School, which now serves as the Municipal Center.
As a result of the new list, Frost Street – a point about 1 mile from the school by road – would no longer falls within the list of town responsibilities. That means residents would now be responsibility for clearing the sidewalks of snow and debris and maintain liability for them.
But with sidewalks that haven’t been replaced or repaired in 40 years, residents said it’s an unfair burden to suddenly place the responsibility on them.
“If you want the sidewalks there, you clean it. Otherwise I’m taking it the hell out,” said Richard Ahearn Jr.
In front of 203 Frost St., the decay is visible every day said owner David Niezgorski, but never more so than after a considerable storm. The foundation has deteriorated to a point that any heavy rains bring a pool of water sitting in front of his home.
Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that Niezgorski said he wouldn’t be comfortable taking on liability for any injuries that may be caused at the edge of his property.
“I want these sidewalks repaired, then I would have no problem doing what have to do to maintain it,” Niezgorski said, “but they shouldn’t be given to us in condition it’s in right now with new responsibilities for us.”
It’s a concern now shared by members of the Southington Town Council, who unanimously voted to table a vote on the changes and sent the language back to the ordinance review subcommittee. The committee will address language and look at the concerns before returning a new recommendation for a second public hearing.
Councilman John Barry said it’s the right thing to do, especially given the circumstances brought up by residents.
“I wasn’t aware of the condition of the sidewalks are in,” he said. “It’s unfair to you as property owners for town to give sidewalk that in poor condition and needs work.”
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