Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cover Letter

Dear Neighbor:

We are writing to you and your neighbors asking for your support to repave the private
alley between Rutland Square and W. Newton Street together with the access alleys.
Anyone who has walked or driven any of these alleyways recently will not need to be
convinced it is time.

Our goal is to raise $52,000 by April 1 so the work can be done this spring. Without the
generous support of neighbors like you, the work will not get done and the alleyways will
continue to deteriorate, eventually becoming unsafe for vehicles and pedestrians.

Enclosed is a Question and Answer sheet we have prepared that includes many of the
questions we have already been asked and some we thought might occur as neighbors
think about the project. We have also set up a blog at which contains more detailed information.

Given how busy everyone is, we have not scheduled a meeting, although we
can if there is interest. All of us on the committee, which was initiated by the Rutland Square Association, would be happy to talk with you. Our contact information is included below.

We are your neighbors. We are volunteers. And we hope to make the fundraising as
simple as possible. This is our initial request for the financial support of all
abutters as well as any other greater Rutland Square neighborhood residents
who wish to contribute because they see alley maintenance and access as a critical to everyone in the area.

We have calculated the per building assessment at roughly $825. We know these are
difficult times for many. We also know, however, that the alley must be maintained if we, as well as the trash trucks and the police, are to have access to our property.

In fairness to all our neighbors, we ask that all abutters contribute. The alley is a shared
asset and a shared responsibility.

We will assess the level of support in early March to determine whether or
not it is likely that we will be able to raise the balance required to make a financial commitment to the contractor. If you would consider an additional generous contribution, please let someone on the committee know. We may need your help to reach our goal.

In the unlikely event that we determine we do not have, and will not have, sufficient
funds on hand to proceed with signing a contract on or before April 1, we will return all
contributions (minus any fees for credit card transactions) directly to the contributor. And the alley will continue to deteriorate until another group takes a stab
at raising the money at some unknown time in the future. Let’s get this done!
Checks should be made out to RSA Rally for the Alley and sent to:

Kelly Shea
51 Rutland Square, Unit 1
Boston, MA 02118.

Arrangements have been made to take credit card payments through Paypal at our blog.

We thank you in advance for your support and we look forward to a smooth ride!

Janet Bain 39 Rutland Square
John Benjamin 55 Rutland Square
Liane Crawford 49 Rutland Suare
Reinhold Mahler 116 W Newton Street
Marleen Nienhuis 160 W Newton Street
Lois Russell 120 W Newton Street
Kelly Shea 51 Rutland Square
Stuart Watkins 13 Rutland Square
Sue Wilchins 5 Rutland Square

Questions and Answers


Like many alleys in Boston, the alley running between Rutland Square and W.
Newton Street, as well as the access alleys, are privately owned. The building lots,
which were laid out in the 1850s, run to the midline of the existing alley. In the late
1800s owners abutting some alleys in the South End agreed to change their deeds, turning the alleys over to the city in return for public maintenance. The owners of “our “ alley, for reasons we will never know, did not and so it remains private.

Private alleys are not provided with city services. The city will sometimes plow
alleys, but they are at the very end of the priority list meaning it could be days before plows arrive. We plow our alleys every winter with funds raised privately so we can maintain public safety and service access, and ensure that all vehicles have access.

The process for turning a private alley over to the city has been thoroughly investigated by the RSA and other neighborhood associations in the South End. In order to make an alley eligible for public ownership, it must be brought up to specified standards. Over the past three years, discussions with city officials have given us in a very detailed picture of what would be required to meet these standards.

Any newly converted alley would have to conform to new Fire Department width standards and federal and state ADA requirements. This would mean widening the alley and creating a wheelchair accessible sidewalk on one side of the alley. These requirements would drastically change the alley, encroaching another 5 to 7 feet beyond the current alley width.

• Parking spaces would be eliminated or reduced.
• Trees would have to be removed.
• Utility poles would have to be replaced.
• All of the wiring would have to be redone, both along the alley and into each residence.
• Hiscock Park would be reduced on two sides by 5 to 7 feet, requiring redesign and landscaping at neighborhood expense.

The process is also exceptionally expensive, an estimated $700,000 to $900,000 or more, roughly 75 percent of which would have to be covered by owners. The cost would be added to property tax bills.

After detailed discussions last year, the RSA board decided not to proceed with
converting the alley to a public way. The board also considered trying to obtain
variances from the new width requirements, but this was deemed prohibitively expensive (legal costs), time-consuming and rather daunting, with little assurance of success.

The obvious benefit of converting to a public alley would be city maintenance; however,
it would not move the alley up in the plowing list. Given its own financial restraints, the
city has made it crystal clear that it is not eager to encourage conversions, another reason
why a successful variance challenge would be unlikely.

A report was prepared for the Rutland Square Association last year and has been posted
on our blog. We have also posted a link to an article in the South End News about this
issue in the neighborhood. We are not alone!

Yes, it does. Even though the alley is "private" the city retains an easement requiring that it remain accessible to both public and private vehicles. Essentially, we are in the unique position of having all the responsibilities of private ownership with none of the rights! While this may seem unfair, public vehicles, such as fire, police, EMS and trash, do provide us with basic city services that would not be effective if they only had access to the fronts of our buildings. And it's difficult to imagine how our maintenance-intense 19th century homes could be properly serviced without contractor access to our alleyways. In the end, we are legally responsible to keep the alley in repair.

The city recognizes that it owns property abutting the alley. We have been working with
city representatives to finalize financial help from the Parks Department and the
Library, and it is likely that we will get a contribution. In addition, the city will help by notifying utility companies of the paving project and dates and it will require
utilities to complete anticipated work that would disturb the new pavement before our repaving. After the repaving, utilities will not be permitted to dig in the alley for five years, except in an emergency, which is the rule for public streets.

There is no good answer for this. It is the way it is, an artifact of 19th century public
works policies and homeowner attitudes. Changing the city’s policies is a worthy, but enormous, political battle. While the RSA board is willing to participate in the effort to have city services provided equitably, it does not think that delaying the repaving until this might happen will serve the neighborhood well.

Whether you use the alley for parking or not, the condition of the alley affects everyone’s
property values. Moreover, the police vehicles, fire engines and garbage trucks that use the alley serve everyone.

The RSA board decided not to bury the wires. It would mean coordinating the approval,
permitting, and assistance of numerous companies and agencies. It would also cost building owners additional money and significantly delay getting the alley paved.

The committee began with three bids. Based on the cost of bids, the responsiveness and
the reputation of the three, the committee selected Asphalt Services of Woburn. This selection has been approved by the board.

The bid from Asphalt services is $49,205. We have rounded this to $52,000 as a
budget and a fundraising goal. The pad will cover printing, mailing and service fees
for those paying by credit card.

A copy of the contract will be posted on the blog.

The contractor estimates the work will take 4 to 6 working days depending on weather.

The contractor will alternate paving the four entrances so there is always access. He will
begin with the alley abutting Hiscock Park, proceed to the entrance across from it, and
then continue up the alley towards the library. Vehicles will not be able to use the alley
from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the days the work is being done. We will find a way to identify available open parking spaces for the equipment.

The potholes will be gone!
Because of the many patches and temporary patching, the contractor estimates that a full
foot of material will have to be removed. This will allow him to re-grade throughout the
alley to improve drainage. Where they are needed crowns, or slight rises in the pavement, will be used to direct water either to drains or to areas where it can be absorbed into the soil to help preserve appropriate groundwater levels.
There will be speed bumps (and signs for them) in the main alley and in the cross alleys.
We have also arranged to have new bollards placed on the walkway abutting the Library
Park’s fence to prevent heavy trucks from pulling up there to park. Until now, this has
broken the curb and caused drainage problems. Granite curbing will be used.

Several neighbors walked the alley with the contractor and Marleen Nienhuis wrote up a
report on the stroll, which has been posted on the blog and includes more detail.

The contractor will grade 12 inches of the existing parking area to meet the new asphalt grade to provide appropriate drainage. At each driveway, the asphalt will have an edge which will be the owner’s responsibility to maintain to prevent cracking.

The contractor is willing to do work on private parking areas as he does the alley. Interestedowners should contact him and work out individual contracts. His name is John Baldasaro and the numbers for the business are 781-938-6800 and 781-396-2200. He willnot be able to put asphalt paving on parking areas because of drainage and groundwater level regulations.

We are not professional fundraisers. We are your neighbors and volunteers. We
want to raise the needed funds, but we do not want to raise hackles, embarrass anyone or
cause bad feeling in the neighborhood. We hope that a simple request will be sufficient. In early March we will contact those who have not contributed so we can get a sense of whether or not proceed. We will then notify everyone of the status of the effort.

If we converted the alley, property owners would have costs added to their tax bills. We,
however, have no way to compel participation.

Some neighbors have already indicated a willingness to help by giving extra; however, as more than one has said, they don’t want to do this unless everyone gives something. No one wants to subsidize those who refuse to join with their neighbors in sharing the cost of maintaining a community responsibility. The cost per building is $825 and we are aiming for a 100 percent participation rate.

Alas, no. This is not a charitable or otherwise 501 (c)(3) eligible activity.

Yes, we have set up a Paypal link at the blog. To be honest we would prefer checks because banks will charge fees of about 3 percent for credit card transactions, effectively reducing your contribution. If we end up refunding money, we will deduct the cost of these fees from your refund.

If we do not have enough money to commit to the contract by April 1, we will return the
money we have received.

It will be hard to come in right on the penny. Any overage could go towards the work on the Rutland Square ovals, Library Park, or Hiscock Park. The disposal of a surplus would fall to the RSA board and they would welcome discussion/suggestions from all neighbors about how to best use the funds. Itwould be nice to have an embarrassment of riches, but we seriously doubt that will happen.

We are listing all of our names and contact information. We encourage you to go to the blog for more detailed information and to leave comments and questions there. You are also welcome to contact any of us.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Clarifying the edge at driveways

There are two concerns where the new paving meets with each parking area: drainage and protecting the edge of the pavement. The alley's grade varies greatly from driveway to driveway. The contractor will use existing driveway material, supplemented where necessary, to grade the driveway to "meet" the paving about one foot in. That means digging down in some driveways and building up to the pavement in others. It does not mean that the new pavement will provide each driveway with a one-foot "lip" of asphalt.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Meeting with contractor

Members of the committee met with John Baldasaro, owner of Asphalt Services Inc, in the alley between W Newton St and Rutland Square on Thursday, January 6 at 10 AM.

Six local residents and John B started at the Hiscock Park end. John B explained that the paving would take between four and six days, three for excavation, one for resurfacing and the rest contingency days for rain or other unforeseen delays. He noted that usually about half a foot would need to be excavated but, looking at the condition of the alley with the trained eye of an archeologist/contractor, he concluded that the decades’ long efforts by residents to fill potholes and cracks had left about a foot of material to be dug out.

 The goal is to have a nice homogeneous base filled with two inches of  “binder”, a coarse mix of gravel and stone, and another two inches of a finer blend of asphalt. (Compacted, these two layers will total 3.5 inches.)

John B said he would start at the W Newton St entrance to the alley, leaving the Rutland Sq side open for very limited traffic, then move to the Rutland Sq side and keep W Newton St accessible. Residents would have to move their cars out of the alley between 7 AM and 5 PM.

The grading of the alley would keep in mind two things: to “crown” the new pavement alongside the driveways so that rainwater flows into their gravel/stone surfaces and replenishes the groundwater, and to grade the pavement with a slight trough in other places so that rainwater can flow into the drains/catch basins already located there. The crown refers to a sort of a slight bulge in the center of the pavement that prevents water pooling and damage to the surface when it freezes.

The pitch level throughout the long and short alleys would be adjusted and graded to accommodate water’s flow to drains and driveways. Because the alley’s grade varies greatly from driveway to driveway, and the edge of the new pavement needs to be protected, John B will grade the edge of each driveway about one foot in from the new surface. That means digging down in some driveways and building up to the pavement in others.

John B. also said he’d be glad to work with the owners of each driveway to fix its grade, replenish gravel, or whatever else might be required. This would have to be contracted individually with each owner and is not part of the overall paving project. The contractor would give an estimate and have a contract with each property owner, and do the work to their mutual satisfaction. However, due to the need to preserve adequate groundwater levels, this work can not include asphalt paving.

The edge of the pavement would be a straight edge matching the driveway grade but where the asphalt meets the walls of buildings there would be a so-called Cape Cod berm, a slightly elevated edge. The edge would have an emulsion applied to it that, when the sun shines on it, re-bonds with the edge’s surface to keep it strong.

The contractor would be responsible for all the required work with Dig Safe and utilities.

John B also recommended speed bumps including two on each of the short sides connecting W Newton St and Rutland Sq. and three in the “long” alley. He also suggested speed bump signs to be affixed to poles a number of bollards with reflectors in sections where larger trucks tend to want to hit walls and fences. The bollards would be three feet into the ground and be lined with metal.

On the library side of the alley, John B noticed that a big section of the curbing alongside the building had sunk below street level. He proposed taking out the curbing and simply extend the new pavement to the wall of the library building. On the West Newton Street entrance to the alley, where there are quince shrubs and roses lining the wall of #170, the pavement would end with the previously described  Cape Cod berm at the edge of the garden.

He also proposed granite curbing alongside the Rutland Sq side of the alley..

As a result of the day’s more precise assessment of the alley, including suggested speed bumps and bollards, as well as the need to slightly move at least one of the square drains to promote better water flow into it (near the library), John B. will adjust his original proposal. 0. He would want one half of the amount up front, the rest upon completion. In case of mishap, he says he carries “plenty of insurance.” The adjusted proposal should be received shortly by John Benjamin (55 Rutland Sq) who solicited this and several other proposals from contractors.

He can start as early as April 15, and preferably before the hot weather arrives. He guarantees his work “bumper to bumper” (meaning his work but not damage caused by others) for three years. He expects the surface to last 30 years.

John B told us he has done this work for 44 years and has had his own company for 21. His email is and his web site is at His office phone is at 781 938-6800 and his cell is 781 983-9244.

Marleen Nienhuis

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Alley Conversion Report

June 3, 2010


In order to be accepted as a public way, the alley would have to meet standards set by the Fire Department and the American Disabilities Act.

The existing alley measures 14 to 18 feet.  Fire Department code requires 20 feet.  This would be measured from the midline of the alley.  In addition, regulations require sidewalks measuring 4 feet on each side of the road, making a total of 28 feet.  This would mean that the Public Way would extend approximately 14 feet into each property starting at the centerline, an increase of 5 to 7 feet.

All utility poles and lighting poles must be moved.  Often construction uncovers the need for new sewer lines.


The Public Improvement Commission has had no petitions for turning an alley into a public way since the new Fire Department standards were set, or since the passage of the American Disabilities Act (ADA).   It is not clear whether the Commission would insist on these requirements.  It is possible to negotiate waivers with the Fire Department and with the Architectural Access Board, which oversees the ADA.  It could be that our alley would be the test case.


The city covers completely the cost of an engineering study and for the preparation of specifications and planning.

The cost of construction is split evenly with the city.  The betterment of property is determined by the frontage and the area of the land up to a depth of no more than 100 feet from the street.

If new sewer lines are needed, the Department of Public works covers 25 percent of the cost; the rest is the responsibility of abutters.

Abutters are billed when construction is complete.  They pay off the charge in one payment with no interest or they may use a 10-year or 20-year installment agreement including interest.


Given all the variables, it is not possible to nail down a number.  The working estimate is $500,000 or about $5,000 per abutter.

Once the road is accepted as a public way, the City will maintain it.  It will not move it up in the snow plowing priority list.

  1. Collect signatures of 75 to 80 percent of abutters and present petition to the Public Improvement Commission.
  2. The Commission may order an engineering report.  The cost of this report is paid by the city.  Included in this report are the surveying of existing conditions, a plan and profile for the street and its proposed grade of edgestone.
  3. Betterment assessments are figured and apportioned to land owners.
  4. When plans are completed, they are presented to the Commission.  The Commission can vote to approve or reject the proposal.  It can also vote to conduct a preliminary hearing before a public hearing or to defer indefinitely.
  5. In most instances, the Commission votes to advertise for a Public Hearing to move the process forward.
  6. An Order of Notice is prepared and published in two papers.
  7. Abutters are notified.
  8. Betterment assessments are levied.
  9. A Public Hearing is held at which abutters vote for or against changing the designation from Private Way to Public Way.
  10. Based on the abutters vote, the Commission votes to accept or reject the alley as a Public Way.
  11. The Commission instructs the Public Works Commissioner to prepare construction specifications and plans for street improvement.
  12. The street is put into a Highway Construction Contract.
  13. The work is done.
  14. The Executive Secretary forwards the new assessments to the City Assessor and the Collector of Taxes to be levied.


  1. The first decision would be to proceed with a petition and presentation of that petition to the Commission.  The Commission would then decide to carry it forward through the planning stages at no cost or obligation to abutters.
  2. The next decision would be the voting at the Public Hearing of Abutters.  If the vote is to go forward and the Commission agrees, abutters sit back, watch the construction and do nothing until it is time to pay the bill.

Private paving

Two years ago John Benjamin got two proposals for reconstructing and paving the alley and the two cross alleys.

 The prices were $37,055 and $46,900.  The $37K proposal included 4" of asphalt vs 3"  with the $47K proposal.

Link to article about our alleys from the South End News