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Beacon Hill needs more dialogue, less sparring on ramps

The clash between City Hall and the Beacon Hill Civic Association over the installation of handicapped ramps in the historic Boston neighborhood is escalating — needlessly. It’s time for both sides to come to the table, absent the class rhetoric and legal maneuvers.

Earlier this month, the powerful civic association filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the city from removing existing brick sidewalk accessibility ramps and replacing them with poured concrete ramps and plastic warning panels. The group also hired the high-powered Rasky Baerlein public relations firm to counter perceptions that its members value historic preservation above the safety of handicapped individuals. Walsh administration officials, meanwhile, are only too happy to play on the notion that wealthy Beacon Hill residents are looking down their noses at the rest of the city. And city crews are moving ahead with the construction of the new ramps.

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If snootiness were ever at the root of this problem, it isn’t now. The civic association’s suit makes clear its commitment to meet the needs of the Americans With Disabilities Act without harming unnecessarily the character of the oldest historic district in Massachusetts. The preservationists believe it can be done with wire-cut brick ramps and cast concrete pavers in place of plastic.

It’s a more expensive option. But Beacon Hill residents have a history of raising private funds to preserve the architectural integrity of their neighborhood. The group is already spending good money on a public relations firm to preserve its reputation. Minimally, the Walsh administration should sit down with community leaders to see if they would like to spend their money toward a higher purpose.

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