Penn Valley residents lobbying for sidewalk installation between and were told by township officials Thursday evening that cost considerations and homeowners' rights will make their proposition difficult to realize anytime soon.
About 40 residents attended the Penn Valley Civic Association meeting, where they received guidance on their desires for sidewalks fromTownship Manager Doug Cleland and Ward 1 Commissioner Daniel Bernheim, whose constituency includes part of Penn Valley.
Jennifer Milani, founder of the Penn Valley Sidewalk Group, told a Patch reporter that the group gathered 80 residents’ signatures on petition to the Penn Valley Civic Association. The petition states that the residents support the exploration of installing sidewalks, Milani said.
The Penn Valley Sidewalk Group would like the sidewalks installed on the mile of Hagys Ford Road connecting Welsh Valley Middle School and Penn Valley Elementary School, Milani said. Ideally, the group would also like sidewalks to connect Welsh Valley to Narberth so that students from Narberth and Penn Valley can walk to school, Milani said.
However, Cleland said, “Sidewalks and curb are a complicated topic.”
In the past three or four decades, owners of existing homes have not been required by the township to install sidewalks in front of those homes, and while the township code does not prohibit the township from contributing to the cost of new sidewalks, it has been decades since Lower Merion has done so, Cleland said.
Cleland said past discussions about installing a sidewalk between the middle school and elementary school in Penn Valley had led the township to apply for a $700,000 grant for the engineering, design and installation of a sidewalk, but the grant was not funded.
Cleland said he does not know of any state or federal grants at this time that would pay for a sidewalk in Penn Valley, and money is tight for the township.
When Cleland consulted the township’s public works director, the director was skeptical that $700,000 would be enough to pay for the project because the estimate for the sidewalk and work related to it was from 2008, Cleland said.
“I think there are many different options here, but all of them will be expensive,” Cleland said.
Milani said installing sidewalks between the schools could not be delayed.
“Safety is such a priority and we can’t wait until a child or one of us gets hit by a car. … I’m hoping we can be a little bit creative in this,” Milani said. “I don’t think it’s something we can put off.”
Cleland said the township had not done a township-wide sidewalk study and it would be opening a Pandora’s box to proceed without one, because if the township paid for sidewalks for Penn Valley, other neighborhoods would expect the same.
Audible scoffs arose from the audience at the mention of “Pandora’s box” and a woman in the audience stood up and said Penn Valley should be a priority.
Cleland said it is probably a township requirement that a study be done and then the township would determine, based on the study, which neighborhoods got priority for sidewalk installations.
“I’m not trying to tell you it’s not a good idea. … It is a bit of a Pandora’s Box to open this and say the government is responsible for paying for this,” Cleland said.
Milani and other residents in the audience said they were willing to raise money to help pay for the sidewalks.
Cleland said that in his experience, when community groups do step forward and raise money, it is more compelling for the government to step forward.
Penn Valley Civic Association President Steve Selinger said he wanted everyone to have some perspective and remember that it had been 30 years since homeowners and developers had been required to install sidewalks.
Selinger said residents need to be reasonable about the needs of their neighbors and the needs of children.
There are residents who are opposed to installing sidewalks in Penn Valley, Selinger and Bernheim said. Everyone who spoke at the civic meeting was in favor of the sidewalks.
“I have heard an earful from neighbors before tonight who said, 'No way you’re going to make me do that,'” Selinger said.
And not all of the residents who are opposed to the sidewalks live in the area where some residents want them installed, Selinger said.
“There are people that don’t live anywhere near it that don’t even want to hear it in case it ever comes to them,” Selinger said.
Selinger asked residents to come up with a plan for the civic association’s next scheduled meeting in September, detailing how the sidewalks will be paid for, a site plan of where the sidewalks would run, and a plan for how neighbors’ properties will be protected during installation.
Cleland said he would be happy to work with residents and help them come up with a list of what needs to be done.
Bernheim said he would also work with residents and that there was no reason to wait until September to develop a plan, because it was not going to happen overnight.
In his experience on the Board of Commissioners, Bernheim said, if there is a strong movement to do something, the board is going to listen and they are going to do something.
Bernheim said it was not going to be easy, but he thought the residents had a great idea.