An Upper Dublin resident walking to her mailbox on the first day of spring notices a foot-long crack has developed on one of her sidewalk segments, although it's not much more than a quarter-inch wide. Something to keep an eye on, she thinks to herself.
Except under current code, the township could require that same homeowner to replace the sidewalk panel, sometimes costing as much as four figures. Although that would be an extreme example, members of the Upper Dublin Board of Commissioners hope to loosen the standards on what requires replacement to help take the burden off of residents in similar situations.
Commissioners Stan Ropski, Ron Feldman and Chet Derr, as members of the Public Safety, Works, and Services Committee, heard from township employees Tuesday to re-evaluate current standards. Jeff Wert, township engineer, offered a background presentation, saying that most of the standards follow guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
"There's about one in five people who have some kind of physical impairment that the standards try to address," Wert said. "[We evaluate] spalling, cracking, settlement, heaving, misalignment, dusting…and shrinkage cracking."
The commissioners mainly requested a change to the requirements regarding the width of cracks, currently at 1/4 inch for any crack over a foot long, and spalling, or the gradual disintegration of the surface. As code currently stands, any slab with more than 25 percent spalling is subject to replacement.
"If it's a safety issue, I agree, but I don't agree with some of the stuff that they were marking [for replacement]," said Feldman. "A quarter inch is too strict for the residents of the township, I don't think it's fair to [require] people to go and spend $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 to have repairs for cracks."
Currently, township inspectors use a long bar that is 5/16" thick on one end to measure between cracks, and has a half-inch long piece on the other end to measure the elevation of a crack. If the crack measurement exceeds either length, the sidewalk is marked for replacement.
The commissioners asked the width requirement to be raised to between 1/2 and 3/4 inches, depending on the recommendations of inspectors and the consultation of the full board of commissioners. For spalling, the committee members asked for an increase from 25 percent to 40 percent of surface area.
While a change to the half-inch measurement for the elevation of cracks, a concern for tripping, was not made, township manager Paul Leonard suggested the commissioners might want to consider changing the code.
"If you choose to loosen the standards, one of the things that some communities have done is looked at the gap and applied different standards of where someone is likely to trip," said Leonard. "For example if the gap would trip them into the sidewalk, that's one standard, but if the gap would trip them into the street… that would be a tougher standard."
The commissioners also requested that the township inspect curbs, along with sidewalks, to provide information for when a house goes on the market.
"What we'd like to do at the point of sale is that when we check the sidewalk, we also check the curb to make a note if it's not going to pass inspection if we pave [the roads]" Derr said. "That way the prospective buyer has an opportunity to say to the seller, 'I might be facing a curb replacement here.'"
Derr also emphasized that he is mindful of the appearance of a neighborhood's sidewalks.
"There's an aesthetic value to the sidewalk when you're going to sell your home, or you're driving down the street," said Derr. "These things should be conveyed to the homeowner."
Township employees said they would work to draft a change to the ordinance to present to the full board of commissioners at a future meeting.