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CITY OF BOSTON.
OFFICE OF THE BOARD OF STREET COMMISSIONERS,
TO THE HONORABLE CITY COUNCIL:
The order of the City Council of March 25, requesting the Board of Street Commissioners to lay out Wendell street on a new line, has received the respectful, very deliberate, and the unbiased consideration to which it is entitled, and the Commissioners are constrained to say that they have utterly failed to perceive how the public interest is to be promoted by the partial widening of the street as contemplated by said order.
In the Commissioners' judgment, Wendell street ought never to have been extended to Broad street. This is concurred in by past and present members of the City Council who have given attention to the subject of streets, 'some of whom do not hesitate to say that this Board would be sustained in discontinuing the street altogether.
Wendell street runs parallel with Sturgis street, at an average distance of seventy feet therefrom. Sturgis street has a width of fifty feet at one end, and fifty-five feet at the other, an average width greater than that of Washington north of Dover street. Does the public necessity require streets in such close proximity to to each other?
Wendell street was originally extended to Broad street at the instance of six petitioners who were at that time granted all they asked. One of those petitioners now says that no change from the present lines of the street is needed by the
public. Not so, however, with another of them, who appears to have a distinct personal interest in the matter, and who now persists in his efforts to obtain more than was asked in the original petition and is required for the public good.
The Committee on Streets say, in their report upon which the order calling forth this communication to the Honorable Council is based, that Wendell street, at a point one hundred feet from Broad street," makes a sudden curve in a southerly direction, which practically destroys the street for business purposes." It would seem to be the opinion of the Committee that the street should have been continued in a straight line through to Broad street, avoiding such a destructive curve. Undoubtedly, if it should have been laid out at all, such a line should have been followed; but such a laying out would not have accomplished the design of the most active petitioner, as it would have cut off his store; hence the line of his estate was followed, and that is the exact line of the damaging curve which, the Committee think, "destroys the street for business purposes." By following such a devastating line it leaves his estate with an undisturbed frontage upon the entire line of the extension, not interfering in any way with his building or taking a foot-of his land; but, being at enmity with an adjacent owner, he is willing that his neighbor's building should be demolished and the blighting curve remain.
It should be remarked that the order of the Council contemplates no interference with this curve, but, on the contrary, makes a more radical departure from the direct line of the street, as it runs from Pearl street to a point within "one hundred feet of Broad street," the location of the undesirable curve, by cutting on the opposite side of the street. How this is to straighten the street and obliterate the curve does not appear.
Faithfully endeavoring to keep in view their duty to the public, without enquiring whether their action would affect
individual interests beneficially or otherwise, the Commissioners have, as has already been stated, failed to discover how the public safety and convenience is to be promoted by widening Wendell street to forty-nine feet at, and seventy feet in from, Broad street, while they should leave the balance of it, the entire distance to Pearl street, at an average width of but twenty-seven feet. Such a course would seem to be rather an injury than a benefit to travel, enticing it, as it would, into this wide mouth only to crowd and block it in the narrower parts of the street.
It is said that this partial widening would place the lines of Wendell opposite to those of Wharf street. Notwithstanding the widening, however, a person standing in Wharf street would be unable to see much more than a hundred feet into Wendell street, unless Wharf street were to be widened on its southerly side so as to bring it in turn opposite to Wendell street. Such an argument might be urged with equal force in other cases. Temple place stands in much the same relation to Avon street that Wendell street does to Wharf street. Would the Honorable Council respect the judgment of any man who should advise the removal of the store on the southerly corner of Avon and Washington streets to widen Avon street twenty feet more or less for a distance of seventy feet back from Washington street, in order to bring the lines of these two streets opposite each other, while the remaining portion of Avon street was to be left at its present width? Should the city take sides in a feud between contiguous owners to expend the public money for any such purpose?
This is but one of many analagous cases which might be cited, and has admonished the Commissioners to extreme caution in establishing the dangerous precedent of taking private property or expending the public funds, however insignificant the amount, ingenious the argument, or specious
the pretext under which they are asked to do it, unless the exigency is undeniable.
Our citizens submit without a murmer to be deprived of their houses and lands when it is clearly necessary for the city to take them, but the necessity should always, in the Commissioners' opinion, be so imperative as to place the question beyond doubt or cavil.
The special exercise of its power to take land for public uses which the city is called upon to make in the subject under consideration is but, perhaps, part of an embryo plan, which has been suggested to this Board, to change well-defined lines established by the Board of Aldermen, involving a flagrant act of injustice to a citizen whose building has been set back to such established lines, and violating the implied faith of the city.
The Commissioners are indeed inclined to think that there is more in this strenuously advocated widening of Wendell street than appears upon the surface of the matter.
If the subject of the laying out of this street had originally received such consideration as its importance deserved, it is doubtful, to say the least, whether it would have passed. The following facts in the case warrant this assumption: It was introduced into the Council late in December, 1870, just at the close of its official term, and the order passed both branches of the government, and received the Mayor's approval within the unusually abbreviated period of thirty-six hours. It is pretended the measure could receive the proper consideration and investigation in that time. Two of the most careful Aldermen of that year's government objected to rushing so important a matter through in such a summary manner, contending strenuously that it had not been sufficiently considered. But an insinuation having been made that a certain sum of money would defeat the widening, the Committee were induced to favor it, and this secured the passage of the order.