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Alley is no place for a home

July 03, 2004|By Ginger Bigelow

(Editor's note: This letter concerns the attempt by Habitat for Humanity to build a home in the town of Boonsboro)

I too respect Skip Kaufman as mayor of the Town of Boonsboro and I know as a respected public servant he was pushed into a corner that was not pleasant - but the neighbors (although accused of pushing) did not put him there. His own town officials did.

The neighbors had a choice - respond or stop caring about their own welfare and the welfare of others. The real reason Skip was in the corner was because his own planning board put him there.

Although the lot was purchased for $30,000 and Habitat only spends $25,000 per lot (according to Sherry Brown Cooper, its executive director) it immediately set out to put two families on the small lot.

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Habitat was turned down twice by the zoning board due to safety concerns. The only way to make it work was to turn the lot around and make the length become the width and change a back alley to a public street.

So they set out to do that. The planning board granted variances that would enable them to do that. The town has a liaison on the board to tell the mayor and council about activities. Either that person did not do his job or the mayor and council and town manager lied when the neighbors, after reading about the duplex in the paper, went to the next town meeting and asked elected officials if it were true and if so, how did it happen.

The mayor was stunned, as were the council and the town manager. All believed the house would face St. Paul Street (a dedicated public street). Hence the emergency ordinance. It is very clear in the town ordinances that all homes are to face a public street, so what loophole they were trying to close I don't know. The project was turned down twice by the zoning board which cited public safety.

The safety concerns remain. Can a fire truck get down the alley and could a public safety office locate the residence since it is numbered 47 and 49 St. Paul St., which it is not on?

Habitat's own permit sign is facing the public street. Why is that? Why don't they put it in the middle of the alley? Back alleys are just that. A place to throw your grass clippings and things you want out of sight of your front yard. It is so unfair to place families who have waited a long time to own their own home in the middle of a back alley; of course they are excited, a home is better than no home, but is it really fair?

It is unfair to the neighbors of Lakin Avenue to lose the privacy of their backyards to a duplex that is facing it. Neighbors did not even have a chance to speak up and have their concerns heard because all this was done without a public hearing.

I have always supported Habitat in a big way. The company I manage chooses to help build one or two homes a year and we send employees as well as money to assist.

This is not about good (Habitat) vs. evil (Boonsboro/neighbors). This is about right (rules/ordinances) vs. wrong (changing rules/no right to be heard). The ordinance really gave Boonsboro a black eye from the public emotions stirred by the local newspaper.

The town has a liaison on the planning board whose job it is to inform the mayor and council of its activities. Either he did not do his job, or the mayor/town council and manager are lying.

It cannot be both ways. I would think to approve a change to make a lot's length to its width and change an alley to a public street is not wise, because of emergency-response issues.

Sometimes in an emergency you don't have time to find a house where you least expect it. I think the town should own up to its own mistake and come to an amicable solution and that solution should not be to OK this, but outlaw alley homes in the future.

The neighbors did not push Skip into a corner. The town itself, along with help from Habitat, put themselves there and then allowed the neighbors to take the heat.

Karen Shifler and others are only fighting for their rights as taxpayers and property owners for a say in their community about what is right and wrong.

I agree with Linda Irvin-Craig; Boonsboro is a beautiful little town with great schools and other amenities that make it a great place to raise a family. That is exactly why we moved here 18 years ago.

But one reason Boonsboro is nice is because it has ordinances to make sure that things stay nice. The town ordinance says that a house must face a public street.

When did a back alley become a public street? The neighbors did not push Skip into a corner. The town itself put him there. No one deserves to live in an alley.




Ginger Bigelow is a resident of Boonsboro.

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