Parents, teens call for Route 7 sidewalk

There's a growing concern about New Milford High School students walking along the four-lane Route 7 South as they make their way after school to Dunkin' Donuts/Nathan's hot dog plaza

A quarter-mile north of the school, just past the Agriventure Agway garden store, the eatery is an attraction for many teens.

"It's really dangerous walking on the side of the road," NMHS freshman Katie Russo said last week as she drank an iced coffee at Dunkin' Donuts. "It's especially bad for band members and kids who are in sports."

"We come down here between school and practice," she added. "We used to cut between the yards so we wouldn't have to walk on the road but the homeowner told us we couldn't anymore. She said she'd be responsible if one of us got hurt."

Town officials acknowledge a sidewalk is needed at the site for pedestrian safety.

With the impending September relocation of the Agriventure Agway garden center on Route 7, Mayor Pat Murphy has lobbied to have the state pay to put a sidewalk along that stretch. The entire Agway property was taken in an eminent domain purchase by the state five years ago.

Ms. Murphy wrote to the state and got a "no" in response.

"The DOT sent us a letter saying no money was available in the (road-widening) project for a sidewalk," the mayor said. "I support a sidewalk there and everywhere pedestrians walk."

The mayor said she would like to see the Zoning Commission require sidewalks be included in development plans along Route 7 and elsewhere in town. Then, she said, when the Agway property sells, the new owner would be required to put one in.

Zoning vice chairman Bill Taylor said his commission does not have that clout.

"The safety of everyone, kids, everyone -- we're concerned about that," Mr. Taylor said. "We don't have the regulatory authority to demand that sidewalks be put in. We're taking a look at this. We looked behind Agway to put a sidewalk in but there's not enough land there."

Mr. Taylor said the state had verbally approved a sidewalk going in from the high school to the Dunkin' Donuts/Nathan's plaza along the highway but has left the cost to the town

All zoners can do now is make the suggestion, Mr. Taylor said.

The commission is working with Public Works director Mike Zarba to develop a regulation by which developers would be required to install sidewalks as part of projects.

New Milford parent Sue Pullen hopes the town will put a sidewalk along the highway soon. She has teens at the high school in their respective freshman and junior years.

"It would make it safer for the kids. They're always down here and it's a safe, family environment for them to come to," Mrs. Pullen said as she bought a hot dog at Nathan's.

"They have a time lag between classes and practice and don't have time to go home in between," she reflected. "I worry about the kids walking the roadway. That's why I came to give them a ride today. I know a lot of parents feel this way but it's hard when you work."