OUR SOCIETY is losing its shortcuts.
I blame Siri, Google maps and other software that drivers depend on to get to our destination. No more paper maps to ponder. No more advice from a friendly store clerk. Just a high-tech app that only talks, doesn’t listen and knows nothing about saving time or an off-road adventure.
The North End of Manchester is losing a cherished shortcut via more low-tech means — a “No Trespassing” sign.
The sign went up this spring forbidding access to a path that connects two parallel streets — Whitford Street and Walnut Hill Avenue, which run off Union Street.
To that, neighbors have said, “Don’t mess with our shortcut.”
Pedestrians who tread the path regularly have put up lawn signs — Save Lover’s Lane — and launched social media campaigns (Beech Street Path on Facebook, Save Lover’s Lane on Instagram) to keep their shortcut intact.
The owner who posted the property, who lives in the neighborhood, is the target of sneers. The uncivil disobedience includes ignoring the sign and using the path anyway. There is talk of an eventual legal challenge.
“It’s going to get ugly,” said Denise Rudman, who lives on Whitford Street and spoke to me last week with about seven others.
The new owner of the property, Dennis Demers, took my phone call and spoke to me off the record for about 20 minutes. He would not say anything for publication.
The neighbors say the shortcut has been used for years. They say the path is the only way to connect Whitford Street and neighborhoods further south to the other parallel streets that run off Union — Kearney, Crestview, North Acres, North Bend, Gates, Steinmetz.
Without the path, neighborhood residents would be forced onto Union Street, where residents say cars drive too fast and there is no sidewalk.
“It’s our crossover,” Whitford Street resident Elinor Kehas said about the path. “The city of Manchester never gave us a sidewalk on Union. It’s dangerous.”
Kids use the path, as do dog walkers and pedestrians. The neighbors say politician-joggers Joyce Craig and Chris Pappas keep fit by using the path. The Manchester police even drove SWAT vehicles over the path during a standoff last week.
The path is an oddity. Look at a map (without Siri), and you’ll see Beech Street skipping through the neighborhood. It runs a couple of blocks, halts at Whitford and then continues on for another block before it terminates for good at Kearney Street.
For years, the land belonged to the Davison family, who owned a couple of acres that included the path. But the matriarch of the family died, the heirs sold off the land, and the new owner, David Roedel, subdivided it into three lots. Demers eventually bought the lot in question.
Trees and brush on all three lots have been cleared, and heavy equipment sits motionless in the middle of barren land.
If the neighbors want to assert a claim to the land, it will be difficult.
It’s obvious the path was once considered for asphalt is it not? I asked Leon Lafreniere, the director of planning and community development.
Yes, he said, the portion was intended for a street in 1898 when it was laid out, Lafreniere said.
But the city never approved it as a street or took possession, and after 20 years the city lost any claim to the pathway, he said.
“Apparently, all these years that path has been used by the neighborhood, basically at the permission of (the owners), but the city never had any control or rights over it,” he said.
Then in 2003, the owners on either side of the path went to court to divide the path evenly between them, Lafreniere said. The city kept only an easement for water and sewer lines to run under the path.
The neighbors claim the quiet-title lawsuit process was not handled correctly. They are looking for a lawyer to take the case for free and challenge it in court.
Lafreniere said they may have a claim; he doesn’t know. But that would be up to a judge — the city wouldn’t get involved.
So far, Demers has not sought a permit to build a house. Neighbors say he has told them he wants to build a ranch-style house on the property and will build a wall to block access to the path.
Meanwhile, the family who owns the adjoining land on the northern side of the path welcomes all users.
“We’re trying to stay neutral. We can see both sides,” said Jeff McAvoy, who moved to the Walnut Hill home in November.
“We feel bad for the Demers, they’re getting a lot of hate,” said his wife, Carys McAvoy.
The Demers currently live in the neighborhood in the Walnut Hill subdivision. Demers’ wife, Elana, used the walk in the neighborhood and knows many of the people who are now mounting the campaign.
“It’s his property,” Rudman acknowledged, “but there’s such a thing as living in a neighborhood and being neighborly.”