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Northampton board recommends 35 private ways to be made public, rejects 10

The entrance to Center Court from Center Street in Northampton Wednesday. The street will remain a private way.

The entrance to Center Court from Center Street in Northampton Wednesday. The street will remain a private way. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

Survey crews recently have been sent out to mark boundaries and take other measurements at about 25 of the 35 soon-to-be-public streets this fall, signaling an early step in the lengthy process that includes legal work and the eventual approval by the City Council. Another 10 streets have already been accepted or are further along in the process, said Edward S. Huntley, director of the Department of Public Works.

Meantime, the city is about to send certified letters notifying property owners on 10 private streets that they will not be accepted as public ways. The letters will inform property owners that, starting this winter, the city will no longer plow snow and perform other maintenance on their streets as it has done for years.

Those streets are Bank Avenue, Bottoms Road, Center Court, Herbert Avenue, Meadow Avenue, Park Avenue, Paquette Avenue, Taylor Street, View Avenue and Water Street Rear.

The effort to clear up the status of the private ways began after the city discovered that it is prohibited from using public funds to plow private streets unless residents give it permission to do so at the ballot box. Many of the streets look and function like public ways, but for unexplained reasons have never been accepted as public streets by the council.

As a result, the BPW has spent most of this year trying to determine which of the streets should become public and which should remain private.

Those streets deemed public will continue to receive city services this winter, even if they have yet to be officially accepted by the council, BPW Chairman Terry Culhane said.

“For streets that have secured our recommendation, services will continue as always,” Culhane said.

He said the board hopes the survey work can wrap up before the first snowfall. Legal work would take place in the winter months and each street would get a separate airing before the council sometime next spring, he said.

Some of the streets rejected were driveways to a single house or property owners who chose to keep their street private. In other cases, property owners on the street did not submit a petition to be accepted as a public way.

City officials expect it will cost about $100,000 in survey, legal and other fees to make the 35 private streets public. Huntley estimated that each street will cost between $2,000 and $3,000. To pay for the effort, the City Council has already appropriated about half of the total. The other half will come evenly from city and water enterprise funds.

Huntley said it makes sense for the money to come from these funds because part of the city’s interest in making the streets public is the water and sewer utilities that run underneath them.

The BPW originally rejected more than 10 streets, but decided to re-examine many of its early no votes once it was further along in the process and realized that its criteria might not work in every street examination.

“Many of the careful rules that we began with seemed to fall apart,” he said.

Officials also considered asking voters to OK the use of public money to plow and maintain the city’s private ways, rather than go through the expensive process of making them public. That idea did not win the recommendation of a joint committee of the BPW and council because there were too many unanswered questions surrounding city utilities in many of the streets. Some also noted that there’s no guarantee that voters would approve such a measure, which would have left many property owners with little time to line up plowing this winter.

Homeowners whose streets remain private ways have the right to petition the council at any time to become a public way.

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