Amherst residents who spoke at Monday's Town Board meeting appeared evenly split on a proposal to create a new taxing district that would charge property owners up to $1 per linear foot of sidewalk to have contractors clear walks of snow along major roadways.
Many of these sidewalks are notoriously difficult to keep clear in winter because snow and debris are repeatedly dumped on them by passing plows along major roads. Town contractors would be required to clear the sidewalks after three inches of snow accumulates.
Seventeen town residents spoke regarding the possible creation of snowplow districts, which would charge only those homeowners within the special zones a fee for clearing snow, not all town residents.
The board is considering creating five snowplow zones that would cover about 1,000 properties and apply to certain stretches of Kenmore Avenue, Niagara Falls Boulevard, Eggert Road, Maple Road, Harlem Road and Sheridan Drive. No property owners in these zones would be exempt from paying the snow-clearing fee.
Some resident were in favor, some were against, and some had questions Monday. Two information sessions will be held for interested residents at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday in the council chambers of Amherst Town Hall.
Those against snowplow districts said they already clear their sidewalks, have invested a lot of money in their own snowblowers, often assist their neighbors and shouldn't be penalized because other property owners aren't being responsible.
"I think that I'm being punished because I do clear the sidewalk," said Harlem Road resident Deborah Timmons. "That's really unfair."
Those in favor cited public safety issues and personal difficulty clearing their sidewalks.
The sidewalk snow-clearing issue in Amherst has come up repeatedly over the years, especially after three teenagers were struck and killed on Niagara Falls Boulevard in 2001 while walking in the street because sidewalks were impassible.
"As you well know, there have been fatalities from people walking in the street, so this is very much a safety issue for those of us who have to walk on the sidewalks -- who try to walk on the sidewalks but can't," said Isabel Berger, who lives on a residential side street but regularly walks on Maple Road.
Some homeowners asserted that if sidewalk snowplow districts are a matter of public safety, all residents should be taxed, not just property owners in the five designated zones. The public hearing will continue April 11.
In a related matter, the board also stiffened the fines for commercial properties and businesses in Amherst that don't clear their sidewalks. Commercial violators will be fined $75 for a first offense, $150 for a second offense and $250 for each subsequent offense within a 12-month period.
The board gave BJ's Wholesale Club the green light to move into the TJ Maxx plaza at the northeast corner of Sheridan Drive and Niagara Falls Boulevard. The board unanimously approved rezoning the plaza from "general business" to "shopping center" to allow BJ's to construct a gas station on the site.
The 111,300-square-foot BJ's will occupy the plaza section where Media Play used to be, to the east of the TJ Maxx store, which also will be expanded.