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Amherst building official to review criteria for hazardous sidewalks

Instead of imposing fines on property owners whose sidewalks have been cited for being in disrepair, the Amherst building commissioner will review the criteria for what constitutes a hazardous sidewalk.

The review will buy homeowners time after town code enforcement officers recently began spray-painting bright orange lines and letters on the sidewalks outside their homes indicating that particular sidewalk sections were in need of repair or replacement.

In some cases, sidewalk sections were at least a half-inch higher than the adjoining section, creating a tripping hazard. Some residents say they have been cited for smaller gaps.

The compromise was unanimously approved Monday by the Town Board after Council Member Mark A. Manna proposed that the board direct Building Commissioner Thomas Ketchum to cease any action on the violations for 60 days to give homeowners time to appeal the citations.

"Some of the alleged violations don't rise to the level where we should be threatening them with a fine or jail time," Manna said. "Some were very minor, simply cosmetic. I don't think that's worthy of a fine or jail sentence."

However, other board members insisted that lawmakers have no authority to ask the building commissioner to stop performing his job.

"The question becomes, do we simply wait until somebody is hurt to enforce what is common-sense law?" Council Member Guy R. Marlette retorted before offering an amendment to Manna's resolution.

In addition to reviewing the criteria for hazardous sidewalks, Marlette's amendment requests that the town's Building Department review violations for asphalt driveways that include blacktop over the sidewalk. Some of those driveways have been like that for decades, he and others noted, prompting Marlette to question whether they should be exempt from any recent local laws that require concrete for the town right of way or sidewalk.

Meanwhile, a few residents of Washington Highway and Mount Vernon Road in the Snyder section of town who were tagged for having hazardous sidewalks complained about what they saw as a double standard regarding enforcement.

"Our visitors, of course, could avoid the sidewalk by walking in the street, and they could fall into one of the numerous potholes," said Ugo Del Sorbo of Washington Highway.

"It's a shame our town doesn't follow the example of our surrounding communities and spend our hard-earned tax dollars on road maintenance, sidewalk repair and police patrols for [town] parks."

Others said the Building Department should have given residents prior notice before spray-painting their sidewalks, which some described as graffiti. They asked officials how the paint markings can be removed from sidewalks that might require only a little patching.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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