Yesterday I circulated a proposed sidewalk policy for the town. I mentioned, in my e mail, that Elizabeth Sherman Graif participated in meetings. I appreciate the input provided to me by Ms. Graif. Elizabethrequested that I release the following statement indicating that she disagrees with one aspect of the proposed policy: the creation of a sidewalk district. I invited Elizabethto submit her thoughts to me and promised to circulate her comments. Her comments are printed below.
I also requested the Town Attorney to provide me with his comments – expressing why a sidewalk district makes sense. The opinion from Town Attorney Tim Lewis can be found after Elizabeth Graif’s comments.
I welcome and appreciate the discussion and look forward to participating in the Town Board’s review of the proposed policy statement. PAUL FEINER
The draft sidewalk policy that Paul Feiner circulated is intended only as a point of departure for further discussion. Comments and suggestions from the members of the Town Board and the community at large are welcomed.
I strongly disagree with the policy's proposed funding scheme, whereby sidewalk repair is funded through the Town, yet new sidewalk construction is paid for by small groups if individiual homeowners - called "sidewalk districts".
Many months ago, Greenburgh requested and received an opinion from the New York State Comptroller's office as to whether a town was permitted to construct sidewalks. The State's response was that the Town of Greenburghcould construct sidewalks, but that the Town could not create sidewalk districts -- whereby the cost of sidewalks in a neighborhood would be charged only to residents of that neighborhood -- unless "all property owners within the district will be benefited by the establishment of the district". In other words, for a sidewalk district, sidewalks must be built throughout the entire district -- even where they are not needed for public safety reasons. Isolated sidewalks in a neighborhood do not benefit everyone in the neighborhood, because they would burden those in the district whose property abuts the sidewalks, but benefit others whose property does not.
Furthermore, the State's opinion requires that all property owners who benefit from creation of a sidewalk district must be "included within the district". It would be impossible to determine who benefits and who does not benefit from the construction of sidewalks - commuters, schoolchildren, pedestrians, and so on up to all residents of Greenburgh who, by the installation of a sidewalk, for example, would avoid having to pay to settle another expensive lawsuit that results from the tragic injury of a pedestrian in the future. It could be said that the construction of certain sidewalks then benefit all residents - and taxpayers - in Greenburgh.
Finally, the the Town already pays to rebuild and maintain sidewalks in other parts of Greenburgh, including in Edgemont, and has proposed to continue to do so in the draft sidewalk policy that was circulated by Mr. Feiner. Why should one argue that a sidewalk district must be formed to build a sidewalk on Seely Place, for example, when, a block away, the Town already pays to maintain the red brick sidewalks in Old Edgemont? Construction of sidewalks needed for the health and safety of Town residents is the responsibility of the Town, and should never depend on a vote of residents in an isolated district of the Town, which would be required in order to create such a district and charge the cost of sidewalks only to those residents. We should learn from our mistakes in the past, and recognize that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to health and safety issues.
COMMENTS FROM THE TOWN ATTORNEY TIM LEWIS
The comptroller’s opinion indicates that Greenburgh (or a county with more than three towns) cannot fund sidewalks under Highway Law 151 (which is usually the legal justification). However, Greenburgh could adopt a local law similar to Highway Law 151 but would have to charge both the villages and unincorporated area to fund the sidewalks. My feeling is that town-wide funding of unincorporated sidewalks would not be a popular concept.
Alternatively, the Town may be able to install sidewalks and charge all of the unincorporated area either, pursuant to Suburban Town Law or by creating an unincorporated area sidewalk district. I believe that if you create an unincorporated sidewalk district however, all properties must be determined to benefit from the construction. My interpretation of benefit is, of course, different than some. Conversations with other municipal officials suggest that suburban town law may not allow municipalities to charge only residents of unincorporated Greenburgh. The law is ambiguous and can be subject to challenge.
Finally, Suburban Town Law permits installation of sidewalks in the unincorporated area but confers no greater rights than a sidewalk district. In my view a sidewalk district is best because the people who benefit from the installation of sidewalks pay for them.