Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Residents of Avon Hill asked the City Council for another week’s delay, after some three months duking it out with door-to-door petitioning and letters to the editor, in deciding the area’s most controversial topic in years: whether a large piece of land gets a second driveway.

They won the delay, with five councillors declining to take the order off the table for a vote.

A week ago the property owner was the one seeking a delay, but on Monday he was ready to go. He urged the council to vote and let him “take what is ultimately my responsibility” to repair relations with some 40 households surrounding him opposing his plan for reasons roving from the safety of children playing in the street to whether his seeking a second curb cut was an assault on the very nature of democracy itself.

“I want nothing more than to repair relationships in the neighborhood,” property owner Eric Griffth said. “But this has been before the council since October.”

Councillor Tim Toomey made the same argument, but only David Maher and Ken Reeves agreed with him in at least wanting to discuss the matter. Craig Kelley was absent, and Leland Cheung, Henrietta Davis, Majorie Decker, Denise Simmons and Minka vanBeuzekom blocked the effort.

The property owner and his lawyer, James Rafferty, gave the council a public letter that tried to answer some of the neighbors’ fears, promising to limit use of the proposed driveway to guests staying in his in-law unit and accepting a condition saying the city could take away the curb cut at the property owner’s expense if his 53,667-square-foot lot, straddling the block from Raymond to where the curb cut is proposed in a cul-de-sac called Wyman Street, became anything other than a single-family home. (The property’s zoning allows nothing except a conversion to senior housing. Fears that the land could become a corporate headquarters, retreat center or academy were “baseless,” Griffith said.)

A supporting voice spoke up as well — Stephen Fitzsimmons, who lives in one of three homes on tiny Wyman Street and addressed several points, including that he sees children play in the cul-de-sac perhaps 10 or a dozen times a year and that the impact of traffic on their play is less than has been suggested: When a car arrives, they get out of the way. After the car parks, they play more.

Although Griffith has been saying for weeks that he has been trying to work with his neighbors to find agreement on the driveway, “We were not aware the property owners were willing to negotiate,” Avon Hill Street resident Margot Welch said. “We the neighbors have not had any input into this yet … there are now a list of conditions we hope we can talk about with the owners.”

There had been a meeting the previous night at which neighbors agreed they’d like to find a compromise, Welch said, asking for a delay to “just give us a chance to respond as a neighborhood” to Griffith’s proposals.