Sidewalks Project Sparks Neighbor Complaints on Hartford Ave

OLD LYME — The concrete sidewalks have been poured along the upper half of Hartford Ave. but members of the committee organizing the planning and construction have been fielding complaints from a number of homeowners in the Soundview neighborhood.

“There are rocks all underneath the asphalt, which is going to just crumble and break,” complained Tom Portlelance, pointing to the edge of newly installed asphalt connecting their gravel driveway to the concrete sidewalk at 31 Hartford Ave.

First Selectman Tim Griswold listens to Tom and Betsy Portelance

First Selectman Tim Griswold, who stopped by to talk to the Portelances on Monday morning, agreed the asphalt was crumbling.

“There are rocks all underneath the asphalt, which is going to just crumble and break,” complained Tom Portlelance, pointing to the edge of newly installed asphalt connecting their gravel driveway to the concrete sidewalk at 31 Hartford Ave.

“Take this out of here because I guarantee you, there were rocks under the whole thing. That’s why it’s unstable,” said Betsy Portelance. In a call to CT Examiner, Portelance said that her new Lincoln had bottomed out on the edge of the asphalt. They asked Griswold to replace the asphalt with concrete. According to Tom Portelance, the project engineer had suggested a saw cut across the asphalt followed by the installation of Belgian blocks.

“But those move,” said Portelance, “they’re not stable enough. So I said, why don’t we pour concrete to a certain point down here where the property ends, and then we’ll move the stones up against it. And that’s all we had before — it was all blacktop from here.”

Sticking to the plan

On Tuesday, the Community Connectivity Grant Committee held a special meeting that included a discussion of the concerns of residents, including the Portelances. 

Griswold, an ex-officio member, told the committee that he could reach under the asphalt in the Portelance’s driveway and pull out some of the driveway rocks. “The blacktop was laid over the top of those rocks to some degree,” he said.

“You might have to multiply that by about 10 because every other homeowner that we have used asphalt on along the entire street is going to want to know why they’re not getting concrete. It just opens up Pandora’s box,” Olson said. 

Griswold asked the committee about the cost of replacing asphalt with concrete for the Portelance’s driveway, but committee member Erik Olson recommended against making an exception for a single homeowner.

“You might have to multiply that by about 10 because every other homeowner that we have used asphalt on along the entire street is going to want to know why they’re not getting concrete. It just opens up Pandora’s box,” Olson said. 

Committee member Frank Pappalardo said that residents who signed the agreement were well aware of what the project involved.

“This was going to be a replacement of what existed, which was asphalt, against the stone. So, you know, I think if we want to offer them the Belgian block option that’s fine, but that’s as far as we should go.”

Project engineer Kurt Prochorena, of BSC Group, said the simplest option was to saw cut the ragged edge and then bring the stone up to the edge, as it was pre-construction. 

“I think the issue is, the plan is the plan … this is work on town property, it’s not their property. If they want, after the project is done, to do something else on town property, then they have to go through the town procedures and permits to do something differently, but at this point in the project — and they signed the TRA — the project has to move forward,” said Nosal.

“If you wanted to take that a step further, then you get into the block option, but the most basic fix is to stick to the plan, just have the contractor saw cut it to fix what is really kind of poor workmanship along that edge.”

Committee member Bonnie Reemsnyder said that if the crew did a poor job then it was their responsibility to correct the problem. 

Selectman Mary Jo Nosal, who chairs the committee, said it was important to stick to the plan approved by the town and the Department of Transportation. Nosal said that homeowners were asked to sign a temporary rights agreement that allowed the town and the work crew onto their property and she said it was important to keep in mind that the work is within the town right-of-way. The asphalt was installed between the sidewalk and the homeowner’s property line. 

“I think the issue is, the plan is the plan … this is work on town property, it’s not their property. If they want, after the project is done, to do something else on town property, then they have to go through the town procedures and permits to do something differently, but at this point in the project — and they signed the TRA — the project has to move forward,” said Nosal.

Water issues

On Monday morning, next door to the Portelance’s, co-owner Gayla Butcher pointed to the driveway curb cut at 29 Hartford Ave., which she said had always accommodated two cars side by side but now was only wide enough to pull in or back out one car at a time.  

“They said there was a maximum of 25 feet, but up the street there is one that’s 36 feet,” she said. 

The unfinished driveway was cordoned off with yellow caution tape, with a chunk of concrete functioning as a kind of step along the steep dropoff where the asphalt stopped. 

By phone, her brother, Ed Butcher and his wife, Sandra, who co-own the property with Gayla, said they had not signed the temporary rights agreement because they disagreed with  language that would hold the town harmless for the work done.

Sandra Butcher said that the town had created a water drainage problem when the crown of the road was redone and that the issue still has not been addressed.

“When it rained before, we would have to take our socks and shoes off to get in and out of our cars and to get into the house and that’s unacceptable,” she said. “I’m not waiving away our property rights now.” 

Butcher said the town has been put on notice and is at fault concerning water drainage issues on her property. 

“We’re not going to sign it the way it is because we’re still waiting for them to change the drainage. They’ve been just awful to us about trying to fix the problem they created. Now they’ve created another problem and we’re just getting fed up with it,” she said. “I don’t know what the next course of action will be, okay, but I’m not afraid to bring legal action if that’s what it takes, because they don’t take responsibility for what they’ve done. If they leave our yard, the way it is then absolutely, there’s going to be a problem.”

Nosal told CT Examiner that the sidewalk project included sidewalks at a two percent angle toward the street so that the rainwater flows away from the houses and into the road.

“I was just really pleased to see that during the rain we’ve had in April and beginning of May, the sidewalks seemed to really do what is planned,” she said at Tuesday’s committee meeting. 

Nosal said the town is offering reinforced sod to several homeowners, including the Butchers, whose houses are below the grade of the sidewalk. 

“They’re low and they’ve got a groundwater problem, so one of the things we offered them was this reinforced turf to try and give them some traction for their vehicles, so they won’t get the ruts in the mud, which make the whole situation so much worse,” she said. 

Cost and scope

In 2011, the town planned improvements to Hartford Ave. included a town green, restrooms and a bike lane. The town received a Transportation Alternatives Grant (TAP) in 2013 for the project, but significantly narrowed the scope of the project after bids for a green and restrooms proved costly.

By 2017, the project had been narrowed to installing sidewalks with bump-outs along the lower portion of Hartford Ave., at a cost to the town of about $185,000 after an 80 percent reimbursement from the state.

In 2019, the town received an additional $400,000 Community Connectivity Grant for the “Sound View Gateway,” which included the installation of sidewalks along the 970-foot stretch north part of Hartford Ave. between Bocce Lane and Shore Road. This time, when the bids came in, however, the costs totaled only $337,000, and to use up the remaining $63,000, the project was expanded — at a cost of $31,550 to the town — to include sidewalks along 1,300 feet of Shore Road between Cross Land and Old Colony Road.

Curbing transitions to asphalt on Hartford Ave.

That expansion is an issue for George Cole, of 5 Hartford Ave., who said that while he was pleased with the work on the sidewalk in front of his house and the work on his driveway, he preferred the original plan, which included concrete curbing. 

“As far as I’m concerned, they should have stuck with [concrete]. But what they did was they cheapened this part so they could go further out there [on Shore Road]. So, they took the money that it would have cost to do this right and match it all the way down, because the money was earmarked for Soundview and they ended up going out there with it.”

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