The long delay in paving Washington Avenue has its roots in harsh lessons learned when the city paved Ferry Street two years ago.
The Washington Avenue project has been postponed for at least a year. That’s led some Stockade residents to grumble that they’re being punished for questioning the project and demanding changes in keeping with their historic neighborhood.
But the city says the delay may save thousands of dollars — or at least keep it from repeating a costly mistake it made on Ferry Street.
There, residents were allowed to buy extras to preserve the historic character of their sidewalks. Generally, property owners wanted to keep the bricks that framed the sidewalk, but bluestone was also an option.
The only trouble was, nobody paid.
“Some people reneged,” Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said. “It wouldn’t be fair to charge some.”
So he didn’t charge anyone. The city paid for the extras, at a cost of many thousands of dollars, Olsen said. He tried to get signed contracts from each resident, but it took so long that the workers were in danger of running out of good weather.
“The negotiations took longer than our ability to wait,” Olsen said.
This time, he’s going to have everything planned — and all contracts signed — before construction season.
“I would be more than happy to do something similar, however, we’ll negotiate first, and it will be paid for in advance.”
Making matters complicated is that the Washington Avenue residents have learned from Ferry Street, too. The city cut down a swath of trees to redo the sidewalk, removing a thick root system that had pushed up and cracked much of the pavement.
Washington Avenue residents don’t like the look of it — and they don’t want it to happen on their street.
Resident David Giacalone, who led the opposition to the initial Washington Avenue project, cited Ferry Street specifically as he organized his neighbors.
“We saw what happened to North Ferry Street,” he said. “It’s an abomination. Someone needs to do something about this.”
Now residents and city officials are talking about rerouting the sidewalk around big trees, or simply paving the street without redoing the sidewalks.
Whatever decision is made, Olsen said it’s clear it will take months of negotiations.
He’s not concerned. He expects the planning will be useful for further historic district paving projects, and he wants the residents to be pleased with the end result.
“That was one of the reasons we pulled Washington Ave.,” he said.
More from The Daily Gazette: