Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The owner of the large lot under construction at 79 Raymond St. in tony Avon Hill wants a second driveway at the rear of the property, seen at right by the dark green fence draping. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Residents of Avon Hill oppose a new driveway curb cut, which would go at the far rear right of Wyman Street, because the cul-de-sac serves as “a little pocket park.” (Photo: Google)

Things were not looking good Monday for the owner of the largest lot in Cambridge, where a construction team has been toiling for four years to, apparently, make a mountain out of a molehill.

Owner Eric Griffith just wants a second, two-car driveway at the back of his 53,665-square-foot lot to serve an in-law unit, he told the City Council, but councillor Craig Kelley was ready to vote against it and vice mayor Henrietta Davis was ominously seeking legal advice to “to see what we must do,” because she thought all the council was required to do by law — provide one driveway for access onto the property — had already been satisfied.

But Griffith asked for more time before a council vote to speak with other residents of tony Avon Hill, where he has lived for 11 years, to see if he could come to an agreement.

In the pause, councillors can visit the site, the Law Department can offer its advice and Griffith can embark on his goodwill tour.

Based on the testimony of opponents in the area — who Griffith said do not include the 13 immediate neighbors to the lot at 79 Raymond St. that stretches across the block to 9 Wyman St. — that will not be easy.

Avon Hill Street resident Joan Friebely, for instance, told the council during public comment that, although it’s a very large single-family home being built, because of the size of the lot “We need really think of this as nine large homes, each 2,800 square feet. The proposed project would introduce traffic for not one 2,800-square-foot home, but think about nine large homes, increasing the use of Wyman Street from three current residences that have their driveways there, and three families, to 12 residences, and four families.”

The project’s lawyer, James Rafferty, was not on hand to ask how Friebely feared one family with a large house would create nine families’ worth of traffic, but has said the Raymond Street lot could have been split and sold as five lots. (Even with the in-law unit occupied, that would suggest adding a much as two families’ worth of traffic to the dead-end Wyman Street, not nine.) Friebely suggested service vehicles would cause some of the traffic, but Griffith said the proposed curb cut is not for service vehicles.

In another peculiarity, Friebely described Wyman Street as “more or less crawling with young children, as it is used for for parking by parents during pickup and drop-off hours for the nearby nursery school” — raising the image of a narrow cul-de-sac where toddlers safely commingle with a fleet of parents’ cars but are put at risk if another car arrives at or leaves from a fourth driveway.

Twenty-six families deliver 3- and 4-year-olds daily to the Cambridge Nursery School, according to Blue Magruder, an Avon Hill Street resident and former president of the school. The street is “already a hazard for those children” because cars often drive the wrong way on the road, she said.

“Increasing traffic here would be hazardous for families and interfere with use of the neighborhood by normal families,” Friebely said.

“In short, imagine this curb cut as making not one curb cut but nine, exploiting the 99 percent for the benefit of the 1 percent,” Friebely continued to the council, suddenly invoking the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement against financial injustice, “transforming a cul-de-sac into a thruway, corrupting historic access patterns, endangering families, especially those with young children. Would it not be more rational for City Council members to protect the many Avon Hill families rather than indulge one family?”

As a cul-de-sac with three driveways, Wyman Street is used by children to ride their bicycles or play ball and for block parties, Magruder said, opposing adding a fourth driveway.

Brenda Steinberg, of Washington Avenue, agreed that the cul-de-sac is like “a little pocket park at the moment, where children play and we have neighborhood picnics and potlucks,” although a visit to the street makes Wyman Street look less appealing but possibly more convenient than Raymond Park, a green space, playground and community garden five minutes’ walk away.

Griffith declined to speak on the issue beyond remarks he made during public comment, saying he preferred to speak with the opposing Avon Hill residents privately.

“Clearly this has raised a lot of consternation in the neighborhood,” Griffith said.