Fair Haven’s on-and-off affinity for brick sidewalks is on again as preparations begin for a repaving of Fair Haven Road, a thoroughfare that once glistened with oyster shells.
But the business of looking back while looking ahead isn’t limited to reanimating the quaint look of centuries past. Some residents think the town should reimburse them for personal outlays for sidewalks of both brick and concrete that are of a more recent vintage.
The issue arose recently after officials introduced plans to reconstruct the street and sidewalks of Fair Haven Road and Clay Street, a narrow lane in the riverfront district.
As part of the project, the borough planned to require historic-district residents with concrete walkways to pick up the cost difference between replacing the concrete and installing brick.
The brick would add about $11 per linear foot to the cost, payable over 10 years. For the owner of a home with 50 feet of frontage, the tab would be $55 a year.
But last month, after hearing objections, the council decided that the town should pick up the total $17,000 cost of new brick.
“Councilman [John] Lehnert said ‘let’s eat it,’ and we agreed it was a borough responsibility,” says Mayor Mike Halfacre.
But the withdrawal of a proposed special assessment ordinance prompted a handful of residents who had previously shelled out for both concrete and brick sidewalks all over town to ask for their money back. They argued that sidewalks were historically, and rightly, a town responsibility.
Problem is, there’s a bit of history to the policy of charging residents for sidewalks, too. The policy dates back to 1994, according to Administrator Mary Howell. Making restitution to those residents who were impacted would cost the borough $350,000, she says.
Because of the expense and logistical concerns, such as tracking down former homeowners, “We can’t do that,” says Halfacre, though he says he’s sympathetic to those who are asking.
“I think it stinks” to have residents pay for sidewalks, he said. “But having said that, there is no way to undo” the past.