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Board wrestles with issue of sidewalk waivers

The Town of Amherst struggled Monday with the concept of fairness as it debated how to best deal with homeowners who are legally exempt from having to shovel their sidewalks in the winter or from having to hire a service to do so.

There are 61 properties in Amherst that have received town sidewalk waivers because their sidewalks run along the rear or side of their properties and are extremely difficult to reach with a shovel or plow. These sidewalks run along major roadways, such as Sheridan Drive, where street plows dump huge loads of snow and ice on curbside sidewalks during winter storms.

To accommodate these residents, the town has been plowing these sidewalks for free and assuming the liability associated with any potential slip-and-fall injuries due to slick surfaces.

Now, however, Supervisor Barry Weinstein said the town needs to limit its potential liability. To do that, he said, homeowners with sidewalk waivers should become part of a new sidewalk snowplowing district. The new taxing district would have the town provide sidewalk snowplowing services, but legal liability for any sidewalk-related injuries would remain with the property owner.

He also said that while this taxing district may ultimately require residents to pay a modest amount for snowplowing services, he does not intend to charge residents for the snowplowing service this winter.

Despite some homeowner objections, and some concerns expressed by board members raised Monday, the board voted 5-1 to create new "Sidewalk Snow Relief District No 2" for these 61 parcels. District No. 1, already established, includes sections of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Maple Road. Council Member Mark Manna voted no.

In other business

*Interim Council Member and Florida snowbird Rick Anderson returned to the Town Board on Monday, as expected, after missing eight consecutive board meetings since December. Rick Anderson is filling in for his son, Richard "Jay" Anderson, a Navy Reservist who was called up to active duty last year.

*The board voted 4-2 against a resolution by Council Member Steven Sanders that would have permitted residents to store their trash and recycling totes alongside their homes. Current town law makes it illegal for residents to store trash bins anywhere other than inside an enclosed structure, like a garage, or behind a property.

*The board approved a 50 percent reduction in building permit fees for the Traditional Neighborhood Business overlay districts. Traditional neighborhood business districts are aimed at promoting a more pedestrian-friendly, village-like design in areas including Eggertsville, Snyder and the outskirts of Williamsville.

*The board agreed to ban the town sewer plant's acceptance of waste water from any hydraulic fracturing operation. There is currently a ban on fracking in New York State.

*The town voted 5-1 to award a contract to sole bidder John Deere Landscapes for treatment of town ash trees along public roadways against the emerald ash borer. The board approved $200,000 in initial funding for the project, with the town anticipating that some of the application work will be done by Highway Department employees. Sanders voted no.

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