GROUP ASKS WHY CITY RENEGED ON SNOW-SHOVELING DEAL

Jay Jochnowitz Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, April 8, 1988

For more than 100 years, Albany city park workers showed up after every snowfall to clear the sidewalks on Manning Boulevard.


In the late 1970s or early 1980s - officials and residents disagree on the exact date - the city stopped shoveling the sidewalks. Now a band of Manning Boulevard residents who live between Washington and Western avenues say the city has to do it.


And, they say, they have a deed to prove it.


Mimi Mounteer, president of the Manning Boulevard Neighborhood Association, said the aim of her group's dispute with the city is not really to have the sidewalks plowed, but to get the city to explain who made the decision and why. Since the association and at least one individual homeowner started asking questions about the decision, the city has not given a straight answer, said Mounteer and her husband, John, a past president of the association.


"We think there was a breach of contract," said John Mounteer. "We're not asking that they give us anything that they don't do for anyone else in the city. All we want is information."


There is somewhat more behind the request, they acknowledged. When the neighborhood association decided to take up the issue last winter, city officials were warning residents who didn't shovel their own walks that the city would do it for them and send them a bill. "We thought, well, since they were going to make us do this, we would ask them about it," said Mimi Mounteer.


The neighborhood association, which has written to both Mayor Thomas M. Whalen III and Corporation Counsel Vincent J. McArdle Jr., said it wanted to issue a warning that the city will be held responsible for any liability suits that result from snow-related accidents on the sidewalks.


Residents also wondered whether the city would at least recognize their street as part of the greater Washington Park neighborhood, which was apparently part of the reason it was plowed for so long. At one time the city plowed sidewalks from Washington Park up Western Avenue to at least as far as Manning, according to residents.


If Manning was included as part of that neighborhood, Mimi Mounteer said, it might qualify for inclusion in the parking permit system for the park, which bars non-residents of the areas around the state Capitol from parking for more than 90 minutes on weekdays. A court challenge of that system is now pending.


As far as at least one resident is concerned, the city should clear the snow. Ronald Sinzheimer, an attorney who bought a home at 2 Manning Blvd., said he thinks about the agreement "every time it snows, every time I pick up a shovel."


Sinzheimer said the proof of the agreement is a set of pages he found in his abstract of title. The pages show that on Feb. 3, 1876, the Board of Commissioners of the Washington Park of the City of Albany bought land on the street from Jennie E. Tyndall, and agreed that they would "at all times, keep the walks in front of all lots, dwellings and other buildings ... fronting or bounded upon said boulevard, avenue or approach clear and free from snow ..."


The board making that agreement, records show, was transformed into the Bureau of Parks in the Department of Public Works in 1900. The parks bureau is now a separate department.


Regardless of the change, Sinzheimer and the Mounteers said the city did honor the agreement until 1983, indicating it recognized the pact as binding.


From the city's point of view, the agreement is invalid, said McArdle. "If we tried to make an agreement like that today with certain citizens, we'd be sure to get a lawsuit from the taxpayers of the city," he said, terming the idea of honoring the pact for a select group of people "just irrational."


McArdle was uncertain exactly when the decision was made, but speculated it was sometime in the 1960s. Before that time, he noted, at least one city official, then-corporation counsel James McInnis, was a Manning Boulevard resident himself.


Parks Commissioner Richard Barrett said he believes the practice stopped more recently, possibly in the late 1970s. He, too, was uncertain who made the decision, but said he would make it today.


"I shovel my sidewalk," said Barrett. "I shovel my dad's sidewalk ... it would be very patriotic and very public-spirited if we all took care of our own sidewalks."


Barrett said the maintenence of the sidewalks was an outgrowth of broad park development in the city in the 19th century, under plans developed by landscape architect Frederick Olmstead, designer of Washington Park. Olmstead's designs, said Barrett, also envisioned broad "parkways" like Manning around the city, and the idea of developing them - and maintaining them at public expense - suited aristocratic city leaders, some of whom, he suspects, lived there.


Barrett said the city still maintains a small park on the northwest corner of Manning and Washington, as well as the the islands and inner roadways, once bridle paths, on Manning Boulevard.