Akron council focused on Walnut St. woes

By on July 17, 2019

Walnut Street concerns took up most of Akron borough council’s regular meeting on July 8.

Those concerns will be a big part of council’s next meeting/work session on Monday, July 22, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at borough hall. A contingent of Walnut Street residents attended the July 8 borough hall meeting to discuss the reasons borough-mandated curb and sidewalk installations have stalled. Many are expected to be at the July 22 meeting as well.

The borough last year notified the 19 homeowners whose properties border Walnut Street that the street would be repaved sometime this summer. Residents were told that curbs and sidewalks needed to be installed at the homeowners’ expenses prior to repaving. That work needed to be done by May 31, 2019. Work on the north side of the street, the side towards Lancaster has been done.

But much of that work has to be redone.

Work on the south side of the street –the side towards Ephrata — has not been completed. Yards have been dug up since early June. Some curb has been installed but no sidewalks. Some of the areas where sidewalks are to go have been filled with stone. Other future sidewalks are just dirt.

And some of the newly installed curb has to be redone to meet borough, state and Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) specifications.

The contractor who installs the curbs and sidewalks is responsible for doing so according to the specifications he receives from the homeowner. The borough engineer is responsible for checking the installation to make sure that it meets the specs. For Walnut Street, the borough provided specs to the homeowners, who were then to provide the specs to their respective contractors.
Walnut Street homeowners met to discuss their situation, and decided as a group to hire one contractor. A few hired different contractors.

Homeowners at the council meeting wanted to know why their work wasn’t being done, and why some of the work that was done wasn’t done to spec.

Rainy weather played a role in the delay. Also the borough extended the deadline for contractors to complete the work. Homeowners were not notified by the borough that an extension had been granted, according to Jason Whitcraft, whose property has a poured concrete curb on the street side, but whose future sidewalk is just dirt.
Whitcraft, who told the room he had worked in construction sales and management for 30 years, spoke at some length during the meeting. He also spoke briefly to this reporter during a visit to his Walnut Street home.

In his remarks both at the meeting and at his home, Whitcraft said he believes he echoes the sentiments of most, if not all, of his neighbors when he says nobody on the street really wanted this project. He acknowledged that sidewalk and curb installations are the reality of current practices for repaving projects and for new developments. He also said his $5,000 cost for the concrete work will likely have a positive effect on his home value. He said since the sidewalk is on his property he knows he’s liable for falls and any other accidents that occur there. That’s a concern.
Whitcraft said he is “…90 percent paid,” for the work that needs to be done, and he believes most of his neighbors have also prepaid at least a portion of the cost. He’s concerned that the money he’s prepaid into the project may be at risk.

Jason Whitcraft, fresh from the Hillcrest Swim Club, is sitting on a curb outside his Walnut Street home on Sunday, with his feet in a trench where there was supposed to be a sidewalk as of May 31. He and his Walnut Street neighbors are concerned about the progress of sidewalk and curb installation project, which needs to be completed before their street can be repaved. Photo by Dick Wanner.

At the meeting, Whitcraft expressed concern about the expense of the rework that needs to be done to bring all the properties into spec. And he’s concerned about the impact that expense could have on the contractor.

At its June meeting, council replaced borough engineering firm Arro Consultants with Hanover Engineering, whose Lancaster-Lebanon office is in Ephrata. At the borough’s request, a Hanover consultant went to Walnut Street, examined all 19 properties and prepared a seven-page report listing all the corrections needed to bring the various installations into code. Some of the deviations were minor and should remain in place, according to the report.

Questions of liability, responsibility, cost and a completion schedule will be addressed at the July 22 meeting.

Meanwhile, council voted to have Borough Manager Sue Davidson to direct the borough solicitor to draft a letter to Arro concerning their role in the Walnut Street issue.

In other business, council:

• Witnessed the swearing in of part-time police officer Craig Johnson, who currently works full-time for the Western Berks Regional Police Department. He has been with the department for nine years. Officer Johnson is a graduate of the Reading Police Academy. He was previously employed as an EMT by Penn State Health St. Joseph, and served in the U.S. Army as a military policeman.
• Donated $150 to representatives of the Middle Creek Search and Rescue Team. Search and Rescue members had attended a Doggie Day in the Park at Roland Park. As part of the event, team members demonstrated the work of rescue dogs. The $150 represented funds raised through a basket raffle during the event.
• Discussed the maintenance of the wilding areas at the Colonial Drive park. The areas have been criticized for looking weedy and overgrown, but there was no definitive maintenance solution offered.
• Borough Manager Sue Davidson reported that some volunteer groups had registered with the borough, and that they had been assigned tasks. One group of volunteers were Boy Scouts, who will be painting fire hydrants in the fall.
• Davidson reported that she will be conducting interviews of candidates who applied for a part-time administrative assistant position with the borough.
• Appointed a committee to implement the new comprehensive plan, recently completed to replace the prior plan which had been done 25 years ago. The committee members, all Akron residents, are Joyce Moyer, David Tuy, Deborah Fast, Penny Talbert, Linda Kane, Denise Auker, John Williamson and Sue Davidson.

Dick Wanner is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.

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