The Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection is citing about 15 property owners in the Upper Hill for sidewalk conditions that are not on their own street, Ewart Drive, but on Centre Avenue at the bottom of a hillside away from their homes.
The residents are steamed. They say they have their own sidewalk on Ewart to maintain and that the sidewalk the city is citing them for is in bad shape because the city has not ticketed cars that have parked on it for years.
Hearings in District Judge Oscar Petite Jr.'s court have been delayed twice while the city has added to the number of people it says is responsible for this sidewalk, which Councilman Daniel Lavelle described as "dirt, mud and a little concrete."
It has been an unofficial parking lane for as long as he remembers, he said. His parents live on Ewart.
"Workers at the University of Pittsburgh and the VA Hospital have parked on the sidewalk and the city has never enforced it," he said. "The city has allowed the deterioration of the sidewalk."
Zone 2 Sergeant Robert Miller said that if people complain about parking on a sidewalk, "we would go out and ticket. That's protocol. But that area is not ringing a bell with me."
One recent day, a thin strip of smooth snow separated the parked cars from the start of the hillside up to Ewart. It was not clear how wide the sidewalk actually is or whether the tires lined the curb or straddled it.
"When Schenley [High School] was open, people would park all over the sidewalks and people complained," said Lois Watson, a retired history teacher who has lived on the street since 1973. "The city did nothing. Now we're responsible for the condition of it, but we can't put a 'no parking' sign up," she said. "We have no leverage whatsoever."
Mr. Lavelle said property deeds show that many owners on Ewart own the land across from Ewart and down the hillside toward Centre "but the contention is that they do not own it all the way down. Some surveys show property lines stopping before the end of the hillside."
John Jennings, acting chief of building inspection, said the city's action was prompted by calls to the mayor's complaint center, the 311 phone line.
"The sidewalks are in disrepair. The engineering department provided our inspector with plans that showed that the people on Ewart are responsible for the sidewalk" on Centre, he said. "You are responsible for the sidewalk that's in front of your property, [to do] whatever it takes to abate the situation."
"Clearing the sidewalks of snow is also their responsibility," he said.
The owners of four properties were scheduled in court last week but the building inspector asked for a postponement so that all the responsible owners could be cited and heard in one proceeding.
Mr. Petite's secretary, Angela Wages, said the hearing likely will be in February.
Ms. Watson said that at one time, Ewart was a private drive, which may explain why the residents own the land that includes it and continues toward Centre.
"My washing machine repairman couldn't find the street because it wasn't on the map," she said. It has since been added.
She said she does not know which of her neighbors were cited when she got her letter last September or who has been cited since.
"The neighbors have changed so much, I don't know who they all are. But none of us can even see the sidewalk."