March 9 – After the formalities at our Annual Meeting, we opened the floor to questions for our guests and experts from the city. Here’s what neighbors wanted to know and what we were able to learn about sidewalks, trees, zoning regulations and
Our guests included City Forester Doug Still, the Director of Planning and Development for the city, Thom Deller and his Deputy Director, Linda Painter, Gonzalo Cuervo of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and Representative Gordon Fox. City Councilman Jackson and Senator Perry were unable to attend due to prior commitments.
Here’s what neighbors wanted to know and what we were able to learn
• How was that hideous new house at Bayard and Overhill ever permitted?
Thom Deller: The style and appearances of houses is not regulated. As long as the building met the zoning requirements (size, lot coverage, distance to property line, etc.) it would receive a permit.
Discussion: When a building wants to exceed zoning limits, she may apply for a zoning “variance” from the Zoning Board of Review. Every property owner within 200 feet will receive notice. SNA encourages those owners and other residents to oppose variances that would detract from the enjoyment or value of surrounding properties.
• Can we preserve and recover some of the many lost grass strips that have been paved over the years?
Thom Deller: There are no city ordinances or standards protecting them. The city lacks standards for most elements of street and sidewalk design.
• What’s happening with Hillside Health Center?
Residents: Have received survey calls asking for resident views on apartments, a nursing home, a parking garage and other possible uses.
Rep. Gordon Fox: Don’t know who owns it if receiver has sold it.
Thom Deller: Also doesn’t know who owns it, but has been getting inquiries from developers. If, as SNA believes, the nursing home was a legal “nonconforming use” of property zoned two-family residential, then the new owner would have grandfathered rights to operate a nursing home. Any other use would be subject to Zoning Board approval. If the property is over 100,000 square feet, any new development might also require review and approval by the City Plan Commission.
Resident – is this an opportunity to shape in advance what happens by getting ahead of development? Will raise at next board meeting.
• Why can’t Hope Street merchants clean up their sidewalks?
Two Hope Street merchants: More trash barrels are required to keep them from overflowing and trash from blowing down the street. Some residents were not satisfied that shopkeepers were doing enough. The Hope Street merchants will do a May 7 cleanup and invite residents to participate. One merchant said the storm drains are not working.
• Are merchants required to shovel their sidewalks? How can we make them?
SNA: All homeowners and merchants are required to shovel their sidewalks. Residents have two recourses. First – call the store and the landlord. Second, call the Mayor and the Police substation – the police can issue a fine. Noted that a single resident successfully pressed CVS to finally meet its obligations to customers to clean its sidewalks.
• Our sidewalks are unsafe, particularly to disabled and especially on Fourth Street. When is the city going to do something? Resident requests for sidewalk repairs go unanswered for years.
Group: Sidewalks are not altogether a city responsibility – the homeowner may be liable for their repair and for their safety to third parties. The City will resolve unsafe conditions, such as raised slabs and holes, with patching. The City Council member may, at their discretion, make some funds available for replacement of sidewalks from existing bond funds at their disposal. Councilman Jackson sent word to this meeting that he has solicited contractor bids for sidewalk replacement. The amount wasn’t mentioned but won’t cover the whole need.