I often hear people say that our roads are too narrow for bike lanes and sidewalks. In some cases that’s true. But there are many locations where property owners have intruded on the town’s right-of-way, placing landscaping and parking in what is actually part of the street.
Here’s a example that will be going before the town’s Planning Board soon. The property at 48 Shank Painter Road is proposed for use as a medical marijuana dispensary. For this use, they need to go through site plan review to get a special permit. That process reviews all sorts of details of a site, from parking and drainage to landscaping and utility locations. The proposed location is on a busy, two-lane road with a 25 MPH speed limit. There’s a bike lane on this side of the road heading south, which is actually now wider than what is shown in this 2011 image from Google Streetview:
From this picture, it looks like there’s no room to add a sidewalk. The pavement is only so wide, and there’s a grassy front yard and a fence. But what you don’t see here are the property lines.
The roadway is actually 60 feet wide, but only about 25 feet of it is paved.
Here’s the town’s parcel map that shows the property lines:
Once you realize that the fence is the approximate location of the property line, you can see the extent of the takeover of public space for private use. The tree, brick walk, and grass are in the roadway! Here’s another Google Streetview image just a few feet to the right:
This property owner has a nicely landscaped parking area for four cars, with gravel and cobblestone edging. But it’s in the road! At some point in time, the use of this public space was claimed for private parking.
There have been a couple of other recent examples of this where it’s come to the attention of the Board of Selectmen. One was at 212 Bradford Street (the East End Market), where they discovered that their six parking spaces were mostly in the road layout for Howland Street. Through a licensing process I don’t quite understand, the owners of the market were granted a license for “improvements in the public way”. I wouldn’t consider parking an improvement, but that wasn’t my decision. The market has agreed to pay the town a fee per space per year to use the road as private parking for their business.
Another location with a similar situation is at the end of Bradford St Ext near where it intersects with Province Lands Rd. The condo association put up “Private Parking” signs on their fence and were parking their cars “next to the street” — but in what is actually the public roadway. A neighbor brought this to the attention of the selectmen at last year’s traffic hearing, and the selectmen agreed to install “no parking” signs there and reclaim a swath of asphalt for a wide marked bike/walk shoulder.
In a town where private parking spaces sell for $40,000 and up and condo units sell for over $1,000 per square foot, public roads are a valuable asset that need to be maintained for the use of the public. It’s time for the town to take an active role in asserting its rights over public roads to make them safe and comfortable for everyone to use.