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TASK FORCE URGES BOARD TO REVISIT SIDEWALK ISSUE

The last time anyone tried to fix Amherst's sidewalk problems, angry homeowners rebelled, and officials backed down.

That was 30 years ago. Now, a new report by the Amherst Sidewalk Task Force is recommending that officials revisit the issue -- requiring hundreds of town residents who have no sidewalks to begin installing them.

New walks will cost about $20 a lineal foot, or about $1,000 for a homeowner with a typical 50-foot lot, town officials estimate.

Meanwhile, some old hands recall the last time officials tried the same thing.

"I've been through this battle," Assistant Building Commissioner F. Robert Danni said. "(Town Board members) are going to get beat over the head once residents are told they have to have sidewalks."

"As long as the homeowner has to pay, it's going to be a very contentious issue," said Danni, who describes himself as a "veteran of the previous sidewalk program."

Task force members and town officials are discussing several proposals that could ease the financial pain, and they promise to face homeowners at a public meeting before ordering any sidewalks installed.

However, pedestrian safety demands that officials deal with the issue, leaders of the task force insist.

According to a pilot study made by the group in Snyder, 237 homes were identified without sidewalks -- all located within a one-mile radius of Amherst Central High School.

"The whole crux is safety, safety, safety," said Town Council Member Richard A. Wojtowicz, liaison to the task force,

Wojtowicz and others in the group claim pedestrians are being forced to walk in the streets, including children on their way to school.

Leading the task force is Chairman James Braun of Saratoga Road, Snyder, an airline pilot who became interested in the issue several years ago while walking his dog.

The group is willing to look at any alternative that may lessen the costs for individual homeowners, Braun said. "We're open to input from people. We are not a closed-door committee."

He also believes there may be better solutions. Some local governments in New York have formed sidewalk districts, which share the costs of building, maintaining and even snowplowing walks, he said.

For instance, the Town of Brighton, near Rochester, has formed districts that plow residents' sidewalks for an annual cost of 14 cents a foot, or $7 for a 50-foot lot.

Officials also point out that Amherst now offers low-interest loans and time payments to homeowners who wish to spread out the costs of new walks.

"A lot of people in the area think the town is responsible for . . . building them, and that's never been the case," Braun said.

Spokesmen for the eight-member task force said they wanted to brief Town Board members on their activities since the group was formed two years ago.

"We also wanted to prepare them for the battle ahead," Danni said.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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