Beacon Hill residents are being scorned for insisting that city officials respect the architectural integrity of this historic neighborhood during efforts to upgrade accessibility ramps for the disabled. Actually, the preservationists are right — but in Boston, that only guarantees they will get roughed up twice as hard.
So far, the narrative goes something like this: The arrogant Van Doughs of Beacon Hill — aided by their powerful civic association — are suing the city to stop the construction of handicapped ramps in the historic district bounded by Beacon Street, Bowdoin Street, Cambridge Street, and Storrow Drive. Once the pooh-bahs on the south slope get their way, they’ll go quietly back to managing their investment funds in the Cayman Islands.
It’s all nonsense. The civil complaint filed in Superior Court by the Beacon Hill Civic Association expresses clear support for greater accessibility for the disabled along the neighborhood’s narrow, gas-lit streets, which reflect colonial Boston. Residents merely want the city to come up with a better solution than concrete wheelchair ramps and plastic warning panels, which look crummy in the context of a National Historic Landmark District. Beacon Hill residents reasonably propose smooth brick ramps and tactile concrete paving stones for the warning pads that indicate the transition between the street and the sidewalk.
Beacon Hill homeowners can’t so much as choose mortar for exterior repairs without adhering to the guidelines of a state-created architectural commission. Yet Boston Mayor Martin Walsh won’t be bothered to build handicapped ramps with materials that blend in better with the neighborhood. Walsh and Inspectional Services chief William “Buddy” Christopher — who hail from the same working-class section of Dorchester — might enjoy sticking it to the wealthy on Beacon Hill. But it all amounts to nothing more than reverse snobbery.
Beacon Hill residents have gotten a bum rap. While residents in less affluent sections of the city — like, say, Hyde Park — are erecting barriers to affordable housing, Beacon Hill residents are knocking such barriers down. Last year, for example, 135 units of affordable housing for the elderly and disabled on Beacon Hill hung in the balance. Beacon House on Myrtle Street, operated by the nonprofit Rogerson Communities, was in a bind. An investor with a majority stake had invoked its contractual right to buy out Rogerson, which could have led to the development of luxury housing on the site. Rogerson’s only chance to keep the building affordable in perpetuity was to match the $26 million bid. But even with a state loan, city tax break, and Rogerson’s bold decision to go all in, the effort fell $3 million short.
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