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Southington Appears Set to Return Sidewalks to Residents - But Not Before Improvements

A recommendation from the Southington Town Council's Ordinance Committee aims to turn sidewalks no longer used as school access points over to residents.

Frost Street residents were out in force again, most opposed to receiving the responsibilities of sidewalk maintenance and clearing from the town. (Credit: Jason Vallee)
Frost Street residents were out in force again, most opposed to receiving the responsibilities of sidewalk maintenance and clearing from the town. (Credit: Jason Vallee)
Residents along Frost Street and the surrounding area are likely to be responsible taking over care and maintenance of the sidewalks no longer in use as school access ways. That won’t happen before the town takes action to improve sidewalks – a task that could likely take years as part of a bigger project.

Members of the Southington Town Council Ordinance Committee voted Tuesday to recommend that the town consider and take action to relieve the town of responsibilities on school access ways no longer used, turning those responsibilities for sidewalk clearing and maintenance back to residents, but only once the sidewalks are brought up to standard.

“I think it is certainly the responsibility of the town to maintain school access sidewalks until they are up to the standard we are holding our residents to,” said Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback. “There are a number across town and many are in different shapes. To turn a sidewalk that needs improvement over to the residents is unfair.”

The issue first arose in February when, after a public hearing before the Southington Town Council, residents in the Frost Street area expressed concerns regarding the condition of sidewalks the town was looking to make them responsible for.

Under an agreement reached in 1970, the town would hold responsibility for snow removal and maintenance of sidewalks along Frost Street – sidewalks that residents maintain they never wanted – because the walkways were a safety need for those using the Strong School.

On Tuesday, residents spoke up again, saying it’s unfair to request that they assume responsibility for these sidewalks.

“The way I see it, we were bullied then and the town no longer wants it so we are being bullied again now,” said Jerry H. Forrest, resident of Frost Street. “To do this to save a little money, it doesn’t fit with the promises we were made.”

But members of the ordinance committee maintain that they took time, 10-months in all, in researching complaints after pictures showed deplorable conditions and have made adjustments to the proposed ordinance text to address concerns.

Most sidewalks, including those on Frost Street, fall within a town right of way and are technically owned by the town, but the policy is for general care will fall to the residents. This is consistent with policies across the state, both Southington Town Attorney Mark Sciota and Committee Chairwoman Cheryl Lounsbury said.

By returning the sidewalks to the residents, an act that would occur only after repairs and with a separate public hearing on the council level, the residents are simply being asked to take on the responsibilities that are currently being done by more than 90 percent of residents across the community already.

“The only responsibility that would exist is that already falling to myself and the majority of residents across the community,” Sciota said.

Members of the council will hear and rule on the ordinance Monday, officials said, but given needs, Frost Street would not be turned over to residents then. Instead, the sidewalks and many others in town, will first need to be repaired and a separate hearing and council vote taken in the future before the sidewalks are returned.

Brumback said Frost Street, as well as in other locations throughout the community, are in drastic need of improvements and town-wide it will cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to address needs. These needs would be addressed through the long-range capital plan, he said, and could take several years to complete.

“We will address the most needed sidewalks first and only once repairs are made and the sidewalks are up to engineering standards would the request to return them go before the council,” he said. “This is not something that will happen this winter and would need to be addressed in future budget cycles.”

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Bruce Vagts, Sr. December 04, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Have the Frost Street Residents get a 100 % agreement with all involved and take the sidewalks out instead of repairing. Thanks !!! This would save the taxpayers $$$.......

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