Homeowners in Jenkintown do not own any part of the public right of way

MontCo to Jenkintown: Sidewalks are public property

Sorry, Rick. We don’t own it.

On our Facebook page, Jenkintown Borough Councilor Rick Bunker wrote the following in response to a recent post about the extent of the public right of way:

You seem to be confusing ownership of the land, and the public right of way.

You own it.

But the public has the right to traverse it. And the utilities have some rights, too. They can even trim back trees away from power lines, etc. PennDOT can put up signs or traffic controls.

But you still own it. You can decide what to plant on it. You can have a picnic there without getting permission from anyone. You can ask people to leave it, and except for the provisions of the right of way allowing them access to the sidewalk for walking through, if they refuse they are trespassing and you can call the cops on them. Subject to zoning you can build stuff on it, rent it out, bury dead goldfish in it. It is yours. If someone is hurt there you get sued. You can pass ownership on to your heirs.

Just received a call from a very nice person at the Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds in response to a letter we sent last week. We have been trying to establish who owns what, and according to this official, the public right of way is indeed public property — just like the roads, the parks, and Borough Hall. 

In other words, we don’t own it.

The County’s Tax Maps, which basically show the land we purchased and for which we pay taxes, are sufficient to indicate ownership. As we have previously wrote, these maps indicate a forty foot right-of-way, which encompasses the road, curbs, sidewalks, and another three feet of my front yard.

property markings
The green lines were added for clarity.  Click to see full size.

You can look up these maps online here. Just enter your address, and see for yourself. The actual printed maps are available at the County Assessors office.

Despite the assertions of Councilor Rick Bunker, this means that our ordinance does indeed force individual homeowners to directly pay for repairs to public property. In our discussions with residents of Jenkintown and other boroughs, people registered all manner of confusion about this issue. Some did indeed believe that they owned the sidewalks — that they lie within their property boundaries.

This also means that we have an ordinance that can be revoked by a simple majority vote of the Council.

Incidentally, the County official also asked us if we were Reds or Blues.

23 comments

  1. It looks like you really do have the best thing going in Jenkintown. You wanted to have this work done for free or to get a low interest loan to cover the work. From what you have said the contractor who did your work agreed to let you pay installments (probably no interest) and as of now you have 1/3 of the money raised through GoFundMe begging. Your only real issue is that you got more blocks done then asked but did not do your curb work. If you read what you asked for and what you got, you have the best deal in town.

    1. Except that collectively, the Borough has terrible sidewalks and curbs. It’s a hazardous mish-mash of construction that even with what you think is a great deal, still costs more in the long run than a well-constructed, uniform streetscape.

      1. But really, you got what you wanted. This whole thing must take up a ton of time from your job.
        I found out that the other contractor you mentioned with the low bid won’t work in the area because someone was taking photos of their work and saying it was poorly done. Enjoy the new sidewalk and the party.

        1. If you’re referring to D&D, he’s not coming back because he botched the ADA corners and didn’t get paid for the work. Barricelli had to rebuild those corners. It had nothing to do with our photographs.

          And no, we did not get what we wanted. We want public property to be treated as a community asset, which it in fact is.

          1. You should be careful, Randy. D&D had nothing to do with the ADA corners. And could feel that you are doing damage to their reputation by saying that they did.

          2. Not D&D, so please don’t attack their reputation. I believe you can file a FOIA request with the borough if you want to find out which contractor did problematic work on some handicapped ramps.

          3. So, you know this information, but you aren’t going to share it with us? You’d prefer that I go up to Borough Hall, give them twenty-five cents, fill out a form, and then wait a day or so for them to email me a document with the answer?

          4. The solution is easy. Don’t do the curb work and when you see the Judge again explain that a very nice person at the ROD office said you don’t own the sidewalks. I am sure there is something in writing you can show the court to prove your point. Maybe a nice letter from the person you spoke with stating exactly what they said over the phone would be enough. The Judge will take everything into consideration and decide based on the laws as they are written.
            There should be no need for name calling or GoFundMe pages or he said he said disputes or opinions on who does the best cement work. The issue is who owns what and if you believe that you are right, talk to the Judge. That is one of the many reasons why we have courts and elect Judges.

          5. We are doing the curb work because at this time it is required of us by Jenkintown ordinance. It will be done by the time of our next hearing, but I will take your suggestion to bring up this ownership issue before the judge. I’m sure she’ll give me the information without having to file a FOIA request.

            When would you like to get together, Da?

          6. Never. I don’t answer the phone at the Recorder of Deeds, I am not a Judge and I have no skin in the game. I see no reason why our paths would ever need to cross unless I need an engine pulled.

          7. When is the next court date? Are they open to the public? I would like to see how it all works out. Plus you should mention the double whammy you have to pay in taxes since you own a small business in Jenkintown. Your personal taxes and your business taxes must really add up fast!

          8. Well, yes, in this case I do remember, but I am not keeping it to myself just to be an ass. It is because I don’t know if I am allowed to publicly discuss troubles we had with a vendor. And I don’t want to bother checking with the solicitor, which would cost the borough money.

  2. I believe you are misconstruing the focus of Randy’s ire here. The personal financial obligation, while not insignificant, is important but it is not in any way the major point of contention. This is a philosophical issue, a simple matter of right and wrong. Getting the cheaper deal on the cement blocks in front of his house does not constitute “what he wanted”. Assuming that belittles him and more importantly the issue at hand. I don’t know who you are and I hope you are not in fact a public official whose business it actually is to care about your local infrastructure. If you are, that is truly sad. And if you are, you should take this opportunity to step back, be glad the sidewalk is fixed at not your expense, and realize that this citizen you’ve been fighting with might just have a LOT more background in this rather important issue than, it seems, those who regulate it locally. Randy has spent the last 30 years publicly supporting the value of pedestrian infrastructure from many standpoints. A true car aficionado (I watched him replace an engine once) he has trumpeted the importance of trains and public transportation, and the value of–you guessed it–*sidewalks* in fostering community. It’s more than a hobby, for many, many years this was how he made his living. It’s personal, and it’s part of who he is. Instead of allowing your pride to insist that you find a way to make him wrong, you should listen to him. He’s offered countless times to sit down and talk to you about it. You might learn something valuable if you just get off your own high horse and approach it with an open mind.

    1. I have listened. And been called a liar etc. and had words put in my mouth, and watched my friends called names as well. If you read what I have written, I have made it clear that I don’t think that Randy’s ideas about paying for sidewalks through taxes are nuts. I just don’t find their superiority over the status quo compelling enough to make the change. Sorry my public service makes you so sad.

      1. You will have to point me to whatever post, here or on Facebook, where I called you a liar. I don’t think I did that.

        But I put no words in your mouth. All the quotes, except for your incredulous comment about how “everybody does it this way” comes directly from what you posted on Facebook. It’s all copy and paste.

        I’m fine with you thinking my proposal is nuts. You’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own truth.

          1. Nice catch. I overlooked that. Very sorry if that offends you, but I simply can’t believe that no one complained to you or Ms. Sines-Pancoe about all this. Actually, I know for a fact that people complained to her. But then again, the paving program is not affecting your ward.

        1. And if you actually read what I wrote, you would see that I explicitly said your proposal is NOT nuts. I think it has some merit. I think you are well intentioned.

          I don’t think it has enough merit to be worth the change.

          And while I like and respect that you care and want to get involved, I think you will have more success in this, and all of life, if you resist the urge to attack people, rather than exploring ideas.

        2. As for the words into my mouth, you posted that I said (while pounding on my desk, which I did not do) “This is the we’ve always done it, and it’s the way the rest of the state does it. I see no reason to support this change. No one is complaining about the way we’re doing this.”

          This is not what I said. Specifically I said that I saw no support for this change on council. I remember clearly that then, another member of council was uncomfortable with my directness, and said that maybe at some point it could be discussed.

          I thought that I was actually doing you the favor of telling you the truth, in a direct and unambiguous way, so you could spend your energy on some other cause that had a better chance of gaining traction.

          You appear to delight in making me the opposition for your work as the sidewalk Lorax. Ok, I guess, if that makes you happy. But you aren’t right. I have no axe to grind, no passionate dedication to the status quo.

          I have just promised to devote my best judgement to the borough, and you have failed to convince me that this change is warranted. I wouldn’t bother posting about it, but when I read the cruel fat jokes, about a man who works tirelessly and does a brilliant job for this borough, I decided it was intolerable.

          So here I am. And I am not a liar. And I don’t hate good sidewalks. And I won’t let your bullying, or misquoting, or name calling go unanswered. At least for now. You are kind of tiresome, so I might give up at some point.

          1. When I related to Michael Golden about what you said, he corrected me on one thing: “He didn’t pound his fist.” So, I’ll concede that point.

            As I’ve told you on several occasions, I’m grateful that you’ve expressed your opinion so verbosely on this topic. I’m somewhat surprised that out of 12 councilors, you’re the only one to go to such lengths, so I have to wonder about your motivations, especially as you’ve asserted with false information.

            We disagree. So be it, but I am in no way finished with this issue.

          2. There you go again. Questioning my motives, and calling me a liar yet again. *sigh*

            It has nothing to do with sidewalks. And it creates resistance to your cause. And it is really tiresome.

          3. I wasn’t calling you a liar. Apparently we remember the same incident differently. Let’s leave it at that.

            Rick, if I may, I like to suggest that if you aren’t already, to please become a member of StrongTowns. This is an organization that is fighting for places just like Jenkintown, and it consists of people who are much better informed on these issues than I am. I might also suggest that the Council invite someone from StrongTowns to give a presentation on what they’re all about and perhaps discuss finding a way to do this in a way that produces better results and doesn’t hurt lower income residents so much.

            It’s simply a suggestion, but one that I do think will benefit the town.

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