lans alley3 7.5.19

A trash truck proceeds down an alley in Lansdale Borough on Friday morning, July 5 2019.

LANSDALE — Talks are continuing about how local government can help improve alleys around Lansdale, and a piece of pending state legislation may provide a partial answer.

"I think we can all agree that the alleys are a sore point, in the sights of any resident here," said Economic Development Committee member Richard Strahm. 

"There is, having nothing to do with our borough, a potential piece of legislation in place that could help solve our problem," he said.

Strahn said House Bill 523 would "make property owners that abut private roadways, responsible for their maintenance." 

Repairs and repaving of Lansdale's roads and alleys has been a near-constant discussion for years, starting with talks in 2016-17 on possibly switching to a single trash hauler in town to reduce damage to streets and alleys.

Borough IT staff created color-coded and interactive online maps showing current road conditions and future repairs around town, and discussed how to better publicize that information to the public.

In March, council asked staff to see if franchise fees could raise more revenue for repairs by imposing added costs for companies like trash haulers that cause damage to roadways.

Those fees were vetoed by the town's solicitor in June, after a resident asked council in May to consider what options they had for upgrades on alleys, and in early July staff said they could begin sending public works staff to scrape and resurface the worst of the alleys. 

Strahm told council's Economic Development Committee on Monday night that, after extensive and ongoing discussions on social media about the alleys, HB 583 may be an answer. 

The bill is currently before the state house's local government committee, and the text of the bill says that all private roads shall be "opened, fenced and kept in repair by and at the expense of the person or persons respectively at whose request the same were granted and laid out," or by their heirs.

The bill also says that in the absence of any written agreement or the road being part of a planned community, "when more than one person enjoys a common benefit from a private road, each person shall contribute in proportion to the amount of private road owned to the cost of maintaining the private road," and says the owners "shall have the right to bring a civil action" to enforce that requirement.

Strahm told the committee that his research so far has found that the bill is meant to address rural areas where people can only access their properties via private roads, and mortgages may be difficult to secure without those agreements.

"Many property owners don't like signing those things — as we see in our borough where people don't want to chip in, to have alleys re-graded or paved or whatever needs to be done," he said.

"If a state has a law in place saying that they have to take care of it, that's enough for mortgage companies," Strahm said.

The provision of the new law that says residents would have the right to take civil action would not necessarily create more government involvement, he said, but could spur more residents to work together.

"There is no 'long arm of the law' trying to force people to do it, but it would allow people to civilly sue their neighbors who are not doing their portion of alley maintenance," he said.

Borough Manager John Ernst said he and the town's solicitor will look into the pending bill to see if it would apply to alleys or only ordained streets, and will report back with findings.

Councilman and EDC member BJ Breish said he was all for continuing the conversation, but hoped residents would have as much warning as possible if the expense of keeping up the alleys falls on them. 

"That's a significant expense, one that probably shouldn't be dropped on anybody overnight," he said.

Strahm said he thought the economic development committee was an ideal place to talk about alleys since their condition could impact a homeowners' decision to move into, or out of, the town, and Breish agreed.

"If folks are spending all of their money, money they probably don't have to begin with, on maintaining their alleys they're not going to patronize the downtown," Breish said.

Strahm said he thought it could be a "double-edged sword" to clarify the responsibility for repairs but with the added cost, and said he thought a clear legal responsibly for the condition of the alleys would be key.

"Instead of the borough itself reinventing the wheel, if there was something at the statewide level that would cover it, I almost think that would be better for the borough," Strahm said.

Lansdale's borough council next meets at 7 p.m. on July 17 and the Economic Development Committee next meets at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, both at the borough municipal building, 1 Vine St. For more information visit www.Lansdale.org.

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