Panel OKs opening road

The aldermanic Planning and Economic Development committee discussed the issue for only about 15 minutes before endorsing the measure, which still must be approved by the full Board of Aldermen.

If the plan is approved, it is still unclear when the road might be reopened.

Only five people attended the meeting of the panel and only one person spoke in favor of the legislation.

The Police Department closed the road last summer after Police Chief Donald Gross said the road was intended only for use by emergency vehicles. The road wasn’t built to city specifications, he said, and was never intended for public use. Several accidents have occurred on the road, he said, which is winding and narrow and needs to be widened and straightened.

But Ward 2 Alderman Tim Nickerson, who represents the Tinker Road area and was one of six aldermen who sponsored the legislation along with Mayor Bernie Streeter, said the road had been open for years before its closure in August and residents have come to depend on it as a timesaving convenience.

“It’s certainly a major issue in the neighborhood and I think we should address it,” Nickerson said. “It’s been used by residents a number of years and to take it away is certainly a burden for them.”

Resident Paul Foote of Monterey Avenue agreed, saying that since the road has been closed, motorists have been clogging the school zone near Pennichuck Junior High School. At times, traffic has been backed up onto the Henri Burque Highway, he said.

In issuing its unfavorable recommendation, the Planning Board emphasized the city does not even own the land where the road is located. The property is owned by U.S. Postal Service.

At the Sept. 18 meeting of the board, member Steve Farkas called the measure “feel-good legislation that is ill-timed.”

According to the minutes of the meeting, Farkas said the board would be “remiss to even consider the legislation other than to give it an unfavorable recommendation until such time that the city either owns the land and or at least has agreement to buy the land.”

He said the city has no plan to address safety problems associated with the road and there needs to be “public testimony from everybody concerned on whether or not the plan will solve problems or just make people feel good.”

Nickerson said about 100 people attended a meeting at Pennichuck Junior High on the issue last summer and a vast majority favored keeping the road open. Since that time, the committee has conducted a publicized public hearing on the issue, during which more people spoke in favor of the legislation, he said.

The city has entered into negotiations with the Postal Service about buying the land the road is on, he said.

But in order to move forward with the land acquisition, a stipulation set down by the Planning Board several years ago restricting use of the road to emergency vehicles has to be lifted, he said.

“We have to make sure this stipulation is removed so we can go ahead and open the road,” Nickerson said. It’s possible the road could be made one-way toward Amherst Street until improvements can be made by the city, he added.

In discussing the Planning Board’s unfavorable recommendation, Aldermen Brian McCarthy and Scott Cote said the measure involved a policy issue that has to be decided by aldermen, not the Planning Board.

“Certainly the Planning Board’s recommendation can stand, but I don’t agree with them,” Cote said.