The Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) and 11 residents filed an injunction in Suffolk Super Court on Wednesday to prohibit the city from continuing construction on wheelchair-accessible sidewalk ramps in the Beacon Hill Historic District until the legal requirements of the historic district law and Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act regulations are satisfied.
“The BHCA fully supports accessibility improvements on Beacon Hill, and we are eager to work with the city to develop a plan for making Beacon Hill more accessible, but it’s critical that that the city abide by legally mandated review processes,” BHCA chair Keeta Gilmore said in a press release. “Since the city is about to resume the work begun last fall, we believe that a court order stopping work is the only way to ensure the city does this the right way.”
The plaintiffs filed a complaint against the city and Inspectional Services Department (ISD) Commissioner William Christopher on Aug.12 in response to Mayor Martin Walsh’s announcement that the city would install the first 13 of approximately 250 concrete ramps with plastic tactile-strips in the neighborhood on Beacon Street.
The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission had previously accepted the proposed ramp designs submitted by the city, but twice rejected the proposed materials. Construction commenced on the project in August without the Architectural Commission’s approval, however, following ISD’s determination that the neighborhood’s curb-cuts and intersections needed immediate upgrading for safety reasons.
In a March 25, Suffolk Superior Court Justice Bonnie MacLeod refused to dismiss the lawsuit, expressing doubts about the legitimacy of the commissioner’s public-safety claims.
“The Civic Association has worked behind the scenes for months to find other solutions,” Gilmore stated. “We sought meetings with city officials, drafted an alternative plan, offered to fund any difference in costs between our plan and the city’s and offered to fund ramp maintenance costs for 10 years.”
Gilmore said the BHCA had also offered to organize a task force to work with the city and disability advocates to develop a comprehensive plan for accessibility – “one that goes beyond sidewalk ramps to address all the challenges to accessibility in an urban setting notable for its narrow brick sidewalks, mature trees, and cobble stones.”
Gilmore also indicated that despite the moratorium on construction, the Civic Association is still willing to work with the city to resolve this issue.
In response to the injunction, city spokesperson Melina Schuler wrote, “The Public Works Department plans to move forward with the construction of the ramps in order to comply with [Americans with Disabilities Act] guidelines and make Beacon Hill more accessible for all residents.”
State Rep. Jay Livingstone said, “I’m disappointed in the city that it’s still is not engaging with the neighborhood, requiring the Civic Association to take this step. I still hope there can be a resolution that benefits the neighborhood and disabled community that everyone can be happy with, and I’m willing to work with the city to achieve that goal.”