Thursday, July 20, 2006

Public Easement and Houlton Street
Local residents seek to enter the 21st Century
By Robert Solotaire

Residents of a little, out-of-the-way private road in the West End are raising questions about the care and maintenance of their street. These road questions have little to do with the crossing needs of pedestrian chickens, except, perhaps for those who have come home to roost and are stirring up a chronic Houlton Street concern over what’s going to happen to the street.

It’s all come to a head with gas leaks - not from the chickens (there aren’t any chickens on Houlton Street) - but from the road. Yes, the road has a gas problem, and Northern Utilities has received complaints for some five years. Dropping a Beano tablet didn’t solve the problem, so for the past weeks Houlton Street and Adams Court - its offshoot -have undergone gas line replacement. Now, the road is about to undergo major restoration surgery. As one of the property owners along Houlton/Adams put it, “Being in an historic district is all very charming, but must our road look like something out of the 17th century?”

Which gets to the big issue, discussed on July 10th at the Reiche School, by the Houlton Seven (as the neighbors refer to themselves), along with West End Councilor Karen Geraghty, Portland Public Works Director Mike Bobinsky, and Donna Katsiakis. Assembled property owners asked when is a street in the middle of the city not a street? And what is a street?

A Department of Public Works document describes three categories of roadway:
1) Town Way - roads we all take for granted as we drive, bike or walk or jog along them. The city takes care of them.

2) Private Roads - for the use of property owners, who can restrict use by others.

3) Public Easements - allow “unobstructed access” by whatever means. The municipality can maintain them, or choose not to, at the discretion of the town council.

As of now, Houlton/Adams is private. The July 10th meeting concluded with the agreement that the affected property owners would look into turning the access to their properties into a public easement. Steps to be taken include a survey and an application to the City Council. Once accepted, owners along the easement can apply to the Council for improvements and maintenance. And leave the 17th century in the history books.


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