Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
Cloudy
38°
Cloudy
Hi 42° | Lo 25°

Northampton to clear up status of 50 private ways

  • Massasoit Ave., a private way in Northampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Massasoit Ave., a private way in Northampton.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • This house is one of three on Bottums Road, in Florence. Bottums Road is one of about 50 private ways being looked at by city officials to decide whether they should be taken over as city streets.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    This house is one of three on Bottums Road, in Florence. Bottums Road is one of about 50 private ways being looked at by city officials to decide whether they should be taken over as city streets.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bottums Road, near the Clement Street Bridge is one of more than 50 private ways throughout the city that are being studied to see if they should be accepted as public ways.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Bottums Road, near the Clement Street Bridge is one of more than 50 private ways throughout the city that are being studied to see if they should be accepted as public ways.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Massasoit Ave., a private way in Northampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Massasoit Ave., a private way in Northampton.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bottums Road,, a private way off Clement Street in Northampton has three houses on it.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Bottums Road,, a private way off Clement Street in Northampton has three houses on it.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bottum Rd., a private way in Northampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Bottum Rd., a private way in Northampton.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Massasoit Ave., a private way in Northampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • This house is one of three on Bottums Road, in Florence. Bottums Road is one of about 50 private ways being looked at by city officials to decide whether they should be taken over as city streets.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Bottums Road, near the Clement Street Bridge is one of more than 50 private ways throughout the city that are being studied to see if they should be accepted as public ways.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Massasoit Ave., a private way in Northampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Bottums Road,, a private way off Clement Street in Northampton has three houses on it.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Bottum Rd., a private way in Northampton.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

He’s also watched police ticket cars which block the street’s entrance while visiting the nearby YMCA of Hampshire County on Massasoit Street. Because of all these factors, Herold believed he lived on a street owned by the city.

Then along came a Board of Public Works announcement this fall that it intended to clear up the status of more than 50 private ways throughout the city, including Massasoit Avenue, that for unexplained reasons had never been accepted as public ways by the city.

The initiative comes after officials discovered that plowing and maintaining private ways, as it has done for years, with public money is prohibited by state law.

“Ignorance to the law is no excuse, but I operated under an assumption that we lived on a city street,” said Herold, of 3 Massasoit Ave.

He’s not alone. Many residents who live on the 50-plus streets in question were surprised to find out their homes are located on a private way. Some of those homeowners, like Herold and his neighbors on Massasoit Avenue, are now requesting that the city accept their streets as public so that the services they’ve had for years as taxpayers continue.

“There is all kinds of precedent from the way the city behaved that the street is a fabric of town life,” Herold said.

Many of the streets are actually driveways that lead to just a few homes, while others clearly look and function like public ways, Department of Public Works Director Ned Huntley said.

“We’re trying to figure out what to do with these streets,” he said. “It’s a complicated issue.”

Over the next six to nine months, the board expects to hold public meetings at each of the private ways to examine the streets and hear from residents. It will then decide whether the streets should stay private, in which case homeowners would become responsible for snow plowing and other maintenance.

The board is also determining which of the streets would qualify to become public ways, a potentially expensive process that would enable the city to legally plow and maintain those streets.

The process for Massasoit Avenue and five other streets throughout the city began last Saturday morning, when the board held meetings with residents of Park, Massasoit and Meadow avenues, Taylor Street, Bottums Road and a single residence at 7 Water St. Each of these streets has one to three homes on them.

The board is expected to discuss those six streets and perhaps vote on their private status when it meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the DPW conference room, 125 Locust St.

Homeowners whose streets remain private ways have the right to petition the City Council to become a public way, which they can do at any time, Huntley said.

That may happen on Bottums Road, a gravel road that serves three homes in the city’s Bay State section.

“I think the people who have frontage on this road would like the city to continue the services,” said Lydia Kapell, of 20 Bottums Road. “Even though it’s a private road, it’s been functioning as part of city services forever.”

Kapell said the road serves as a drainage system for the many fields in the area, and that if it’s left untended, “tons of water” would flow down onto Clement Street and the Clement Street Bridge.

“I see it as more than a private road,” she said. “The road is part of a larger drainage system of water that the owners have nothing to do with.”

Charles Derby, of 2 Massasoit Ave., attended last weekend’s meeting and got the feeling that the BPW had already decided it didn’t want to spend the money in legal and survey costs required to convert Massasoit to a public way.

“It really seemed to be a matter of finances more than anything else,” Derby said.

Herold said if that’s the case, he and others on Massasoit would likely be willing to pay some of those expenses. That alternative is better than having to form a de facto condo association to handle plowing on the street, he said.

Herold also notes that Massasoit Avenue is often affected by overflow parking from the YMCA, and that keeping all of the streets in that area within the city’s control makes sense in managing a “frequently tenuous situation.”

Not everyone wants their street to be a public way. Huntley said the sole homeowner on Meadows Avenue indicated at last weekend’s meetings that she would like the street to remain private.

Murky terrain

Huntley said there are many streets in what he called a “murky area.” In those cases, the board will likely hire land surveyors and legal consultants to help it determine which streets might qualify as public ways. Many of these streets serve a small number of homes but have public utilities on them.

The city cannot convert private ways into public streets unless petitioned by residents, as is happening on Hillcrest Drive, which is situated close to Arcanum Field in Florence.

There are 23 homes along Hillcrest, between Bridge Road and Sheffield Lane, that are part of a subdivision approved and constructed in the late 1960s. Huntley said it’s unclear why the council never accepted the street.

The citizen petition is expected to be vetted by the City Council, Planning Board and DPW this fall, though Huntley said it’s a “slam dunk” that the city will accept the street as a public way. Not only does Hillcrest connect to other public streets, but it has public utilities and is well trafficked.

“We treat it like a city street,” Huntley said.

The BPW will soon determine the next 10 streets it will examine, and will continue the program until all of the streets have been analyzed.

The effort aims to avoid the city having to ask voters for permission to plow private streets in the November 2013 election. That’s something the council considered when the issue came up in August as it sought to rectify the city’s long-held practice of using public money to plow private ways.

This is not the first time the city has taken steps to clear up the status of private ways. The council accepted about 50 streets in 1997, and a smattering of others have been accepted over the years.

Legacy Comments2

This article gives no indication as to whether people on private ways, who have always paid for city services in property taxes, will have their streets plowed and serviced, especially with winter drawing near. This could be a major crisis, particularly for elderly residents.

I live on a 6-house "private way" which has always been serviced by the city. There is nothing in the article to indicate whether we should now assume that there will be no plowing or maintenance -- something of great concern as we approach November. What can we do to assure that our street will be plowed?

Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.