Judge Takes Summary Judgment on Sidewalk Ramps under Advisement

By Dan Murphy

Following a hearing at Suffolk County Courthouse last Tuesday, a judge said she would take an argument under consideration that could potentially allow the city to resume installing ADA-compliant ramps on Beacon Hill.

The Hon. Rosemary Connolly will then determine whether to rule on a summary judgment in the city’s favor, rule in favor of the Beacon Hill Civic Association on the grounds cited in the opposition filed by the group and 10 neighborhood residents, or decline to grant either motion and send the case to trial.

The Civic Association and other plaintiffs are suing the city on the assertion that it bypassed key review and approval processes by installing 36 ramps in brick sidewalks on Beacon Street in August of 2014. The proposed ramp materials included poured concrete and plastic tactile strips, which the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission had rejected twice before. But the city’s Department of Public Works commenced construction without that approval after the Inspectional Services Department determined the neighborhood’s curb-cuts and intersections needed immediate upgrading for safety reasons.

Arthur Krieger, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the ramp construction was in direct violation of the 1955 act of the Massachusetts General Court that established the Historic Beacon Hill District, as well as the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission. The act further mandates no exterior construction work can be undertaken in the district without a certificate of appropriateness issued by the commission, Krieger said.

“Being cheaper is not the basis to choose historically appropriate materials,” Krieger said. “Even if [construction] is warranted for public safety reasons, the materials are still relevant and need approval.”

Under the 1955 act, the city is required to get a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act ruling that the ramps would result in no environmental damage, Krieger said.

The defendant’s attorney, Patrick Cento, said while the city had considered using a different design and materials in accordance with the Civic Association’s request, it ultimately decided to stay consistent with the ramps approved for the Bay Village, Back Bay and the South End based on a “historical analysis.”

“It’s part of a larger transition plan to upgrade ramps throughout the city,” Cento added.

Cento said Matthew Beaton, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, determined that the ramps installed to date don’t meet the “review threshold” for MEPA and aren’t considered historic structures.

“The secretary was also aware of the full scope of this project when he made this determination,” Cento said.

Cento said the city is only seeking “in-concept” approval for the project, and would continue dialogue with the community during the installation of the remaining 215 ramps, which are expected over the course of five or 10 years.

Meanwhile, Connolly said it seems “illogical” that Beaton would need to make an environmental evaluation on the remaining ramps after approving the completed curb-cuts.

“The city maintains the liability and cost so it seems only fair to give deference to their claim it’s dangerous,” Connolly added.

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