As Mayor Martin J. Walsh moved forward with his plan to bring Beacon Hill sidewalks into compliance with the Adults with Disabilities Act, the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) filed a lawsuit last Tuesday asserting that the construction as proposed could potentially jeopardize the historic character of the neighborhood.
“The plaintiffs support the city’s initiative to make the Historical Beacon Hill District even more accessible than it currently is, but the city is not entitled to heedlessly and unnecessarily impair the Historic District’s nationally recognized historic character in the process,” according to a lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court by the BHCA and 12 neighborhood residents.
The plaintiffs retained the legal counsel of Cambridge law firm Anderson & Kreiger, LLP, following the mayor’s July 17 announcement that the city would install the first 13 of approximately 250 concrete ramps with plastic tactile-strips in the neighborhood, beginning on Beacon Street. While the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission had twice rejected the proposed materials, the city commenced work on the project last week, citing the Inspectional Services Department’s recent determination that the neighborhood’s curb-cuts and intersections needed immediate upgrading for safety reasons. Besides securing approval from the Architectural Commission, the BHCA and its co-plaintiffs maintain that the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs must also sign off on the project for it to legally move forward.
“It is our top priority to ensure our neighborhood is accessible and in full compliance with the [ADA],” according to a statement released by the BHCA. “We are advocates for comprehensive improvements that meet or exceed these ADA standards, while also preserving Beacon Hill’s Historic District with historically appropriate materials.” Keeta Gilmore, chair of the BHCA board of directors, said contrary to other reports, the Civic Association isn’t advocating for granite ramps, but instead supports the use of wire-cut bricks for the ramps and cast concrete pavers for the detectable warning pads.
“We all agree it is extremely important that our neighborhood has fully accessible ramps, but we also believe there is a way to do this while maintaining the historic character of the district,” Gilmore said. “In other areas in Boston, as well as historic districts throughout the country, we have seen ramp materials that meet the ADA-requirements and would comply with preservation guidelines.”
Gilmore added, “We admire Mayor Walsh and truly appreciate the job he’s done on behalf of the city. Our main goal is to come to the table with the mayor and other city officials to have a conversation about how we can work together to increase the accessibility.”
Kate Norton, the mayor’s press secretary, said on Wednesday that the city had yet to receive official notification of the lawsuit.
“We have engaged the Beacon Hill community groups on a number of occasions over a long period of time, and we are confident that we have taken all of the appropriate steps to ensure public safety,” Norton said in a statement.
City Councilor Josh Zakim said he still hopes the mayor’s office and the neighborhood can reach a compromise that takes into account not only the Hill’s historic character, but also the disabled community.
“Beacon Hill residents want the neighborhood to be accessible, and I hope that mayor’s office and the neighborhood are able to resolve the situation quickly and in a way that respects the historic nature of the neighborhood, as well as the needs of everyone in the city,” Zakim said. “I think that it’s important to show that the people from Beacon Hill feel this way, and I think that’s the one thing that keeps getting lost in the conversation.”State Rep. Jay Livingstone said he finds it disconcerting that the city didn’t have more meaningful dialogue with neighbors before the project got underway.
“It’s disappointing that Mayor Walsh continues to refuse to engage the neighborhood, and has forced residents to talk a legal action,” Livingstone said.