WHY DO WE HAVE TO DO THIS WORK AS PRIVATE RESIDENTS, RATHER
THAN HAVE THE CITY DO IT?
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!
BUT THE CITY USES THE ALLEY!
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.
WILL THE CITY HELP AT ALL?
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.
WHY SHOULD WE PAY FOR ALLEY MAINTENANCE WHEN OUR NEIGHBORS ON PUBLIC ALLEYS DON’T?
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.
WHY SHOULD I PAY FOR PAVING IF I DON’T PARK MY CAR IN THE ALLEY?
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.
SHOULD WE BURY UTILITY WIRES BEFORE THE PAVING?
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.
HOW WAS THE CONTRACTOR SELECTED?
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.
WHAT IS THE COST?
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.
WHAT ARE THE TERMS OF AGREEMENT AND WARRANTY?
A copy of the contract will be posted on the blog.
HOW LONG WILL THE WORK TAKE?
The contractor estimates the work will take 4 to 6 working days depending on weather.
WILL WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE ALLEY DURING THE WORK?
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.
HOW WILL THE ALLEY BE CHANGED?
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.
HOW WILL THE PAVING AFFECT MY PARKING AREA?
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.
CAN I GET MY PARKING AREA DONE AT THE SAME TIME?
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.
HOW WILL THE MONEY BE RAISED?
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.
WILL EVERYONE HAVE TO CONTRIBUTE?
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.
IS MY CONTRIBUTION TAX DEDUCTIBLE?
Alas, no. This is not a charitable or otherwise 501 (c)(3) eligible activity.
CAN I PAY WITH MY CREDIT CARD?
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.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IF YOU DON’T RAISE ENOUGH MONEY?
If we do not have enough money to commit to the contract by April 1, we will return the
money we have received.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IF YOU RAISE MORE THAN ENOUGH MONEY?
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.