York City Council ponders sidewalk-closure permits

Sean Philip Cotter

York City Council is contemplating whether property owners who need to close sidewalks for work should have to get a permit and pay $50 to do so.

Right now, anyone can block off a sidewalk for construction when they want. The city notes and processes the closure, according to Shilvosky Buffaloe, interim economic and community development director, but there's no permitting process and no cost to anyone other than the city staff.

York City

And that's one reason why the intersection of West Market and Beaver streets has become the slalom it has been for the past few months, Buffaloe told the council. These kinds of rules ordinances weren't necessary when no one was developing the city's busy roads. But as redevelopment continues to accelerate in the city's center, there's a significant amount of exterior work being done, and many more roads and sidewalks need to be blocked off than used to be the case, he said.

"As a result of an omelet being created, some eggs have been broken," Buffaloe said in his characteristic idiom-heavy delivery.

For example, the sidewalk along the eastern side of Beaver Street at that intersection is blocked shortly north and south of the intersection as workers replace the National House building's four-story porch structure and other crews work to turn the former Weinbrom Jewelers building into an Isaac's sandwich shop and apartments. Down the block both south and west, other parts of various sidewalks are closed as crews work on other buildings.

York City mayor, chief present CeaseFire to council

"It's interesting to navigate," Buffaloe said of the area near the intersection.

The ordinance change would require residents or businesses to file a request for a permit with the city for up to 90 days. If the applicant needs an extension, they can pay an additional $100 for up to an additional 90 days, according to the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance says that permits wouldn't be approved "unless the applicant can demonstrate that such closure is critical to the project and no other options are available."

Any length of time less than 90 days would be treated the same — it's $50 whether it's for two days or 85. That fact spurred a couple of different thoughts of unintended negative effects. Councilman Henry Nixon wondered whether this would lead to people closing sidewalks for more time than needed on projects — after all, if they're paying $50 either way, they might as well close it for longer, Nixon suggested some people might think.

On the flip side of that, council Vice President Michael Helfrich said he hoped this wouldn't discourage people from looking to close down the sidewalk to a replace a window or something. He suggested that the city staff consider some sort of curve where people looking only for a brief closure don't have to pay quite as much.

The council discussed the issue during its committee meeting Wednesday night, voting unanimously to put it on the agenda for its next full legislative meeting, which will be 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 101 S. George St. The main part of the ordinance is a bill, meaning it would need to be introduced and then sit until the next meeting before there would be discussion or a vote, but the part establishing the fees for it is a resolution, meaning the council can discuss and vote on that part Tuesday without it having to sit.

Action plan: Also during Wednesday's council committee meeting, council members and city staff talked about the city's annual "action plan," which is supposed to document how the city is using its Community Development Block Grant allocation from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city in 2016 received a little more than $1.25 million in CDBG money, in addition to about $375,000 in federal money in the HOME Investment Partnerships program, which is a HUD grant focused on making housing more affordable. Money from those sources is intended to help low- to middle-income locals.

"The chief obstacle to meeting underserved needs is a lack of, or inadequate, resources — both financial and human," the plan states. It says the city will continue to work with service agencies to help the money they have go as far as possible. The plan notes that some money goes toward efforts such as job training, literacy efforts and HIV testing.

Buffaloe said the CDBG funds loans for locals who own houses or are trying to start small businesses. About $90,000 is available in zero-interest loans for city homeowners through the York Homeowner Assistance Program administered by York County, and thousands more in city CDBG money is available through the Community First Fund in loans for people trying to start businesses.

For more information, call the city's department of economic and community development at 717-849-2264.

Responding to a question from Helfrich, Buffaloe confirmed that 25 percent of the city's CDBG allocation goes to financing past streetscape projects — ones done by past administrations that the city will continue to pay for for the next several years. Helfrich wondered whether streetscaping projects really were the best use for the CDBG money.

"The top priority ought to be to lift people up out of poverty — not fix the sidewalks," he said.

— Sean Cotter covers York City for The York Dispatch. Contact him atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.