CHATHAM – Selectmen Monday decided that there won't be sidewalks constructed on Bridge Street, at least not at present.
Because the roadway lacks a recorded layout or formal taking, board members did not want to pursue a sidewalk that could require easements or land takings over private property.
The board voted to move forward with repairs to water mains along the street, all of which are within the paved surface.
The need to upgrade water mains became apparent last year when there was a break in the line near the Mitchell River Bridge that left hundreds of residents without water. Town meeting appropriated funds for the work, but when the department of public works began assessing what was needed to accomplish the project, the lack of a formal roadway layout was discovered.
After exhaustive research, Town Counsel Patrick Costello told the board, even though no formal road layout could be found in the Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, it is clear that Bridge Street is a town road.
Chairman of Selectmen Dean Nicastro said at least one resident had questioned the right of the town to do work within Bridge Street because of the lack of a layout or formal taking order. Costello, however, said references to the layout of Bridge Street were found dating back to 1854, and all of the property deeds along the roadway identify it as a town or county way. All show the road layout to be 30 or 33 feet wide, with some referencing 50-foot layouts, he said.
Even without a formal layout, under state law if a roadway has been used for public travel and maintained by the town for at least 20 years it is considered a public way, Costello said.
Selectmen could adopt a formal layout and order eminent domain takings of any private land within, which would require town meeting approval, but Costello said he saw no need.
“Unless someone is affirmatively challenging the public status of the way, there's no reason to do anything,” he said.
The initial proposal to extend sidewalks along Bridge Street was tied to an overall sidewalk plan, funding for which was voted in 2007. After opposition rose to sidewalks on Stage Harbor Road selectmen voted to move forward with sidewalks along the north side of Bridge Street from Main Street to the Mitchell River Bridge. In 2015, town meeting endorsed a resolution supporting sidewalks on Bridge Street by a 155-113 vote. That September selectmen voted to endorse sidewalks stretching from Main Street to Stage Harbor Road.
Public Works Director Tom Temple said sidewalks could be built within the 33-foot layout for most of the length of Bridge Street, but at least two easements would be needed at the east end, where it intersects with Main Street, as well as a “couple of other slivers” along the road to accommodate grading.
After the bruising battle over sidewalks on Stage Harbor Road, selectmen Monday appeared to have no stomach to continue pursuing them on Bridge Street, seeing moving ahead with the water main work as a priority.
“As much as I like sidewalks, I think it's fine the way it is,” said Selectman Jeffrey Dykens, who earlier in Monday's meeting successfully added $100,000 to the town's sidewalk budget to upgrade and add sidewalks elsewhere in town. He said he won't pursue sidewalks in this area even though he would like to see them all around the so-called “loop,” which includes Stage Harbor Road, Bridge Street and Main Street. Currently only Main Street and a section of Stage Harbor Road just off Main Street have sidewalks.
Nicastro said had he known that no layout existed for Bridge Street, he would not have voted to support sidewalks in 2015.
Cory Metters said the utilities are a priority and while he appreciated the sidewalk discussion, “they're not a necessity to me at this moment.”
“We need to take care of the utilities,” said Peter Cocolis. “We should do that and if we want to discuss sidewalks, I think we can delay that to another time.”
While she likes the way Bridge Street looks now, Shareen Davis noted that the rebuilt Mitchell River Bridge has Americans With Disability-compliant sidewalks on both sides which do not connect to anything.
Stage Harbor Road resident Anne Timpson said in 2015 an overwhelming number of property owners were not in favor of sidewalks. She called for a formal road layout and taking of Bridge Street and urged the rejection of sidewalks, which she called “the ultimate in urbanization.”
Debbie Aikman said the board's decision could have implications; there are sidewalks on historic roads in town that desperately need repair. Property owners may oppose any change based on the board's decision.
“Maybe we'll never see any new sidewalks in town,” she said.
Based on the research done and the advice of town counsel, the board voted unanimously that Bridge Street is a town way. Selectman also decided not to pursue a formal road layout of Bridge Street. “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” Nicastro commented.
Costello said selectmen have the authority to establish sidewalks and can revisit their decision anytime. “You always have that right,” he said.
Temple said the water main work awaits approval by the conservation commission and the Army Corps of Engineers, because it involves work in the Mitchell River.