Mark Hayward's City Matters: Businesses miffed about street closures
At least in the core areas of the city, nearly all streets line up with enough perpendicular precision to draw a smile of admiration to the lips of draftsmen, surveyors and high school geometry teachers.
If you miss a turn, just drive one block farther, take a right and back track.
And in a state grounded on principles of individuality and independence, the grid provides a subtle counterbalance of uniformity, at least from the perspective of blacktop.
Officially, block-long portions of the two streets are termed discontinued. But you could call them extinct, erased from the grid as part of the new city complex that opened earlier this year. The $43 million complex is a new home for the Police, Highway, Water Works and Fleet Management departments.
"This was designed as a single site, not three pieces of property with public roads intersecting them," said Kevin Sheppard, the director of Public Works. "It assists our work flow, the safety of our employees as well as the safety of the public."
LeBlanc said he hears complaints from his customers every day, and it's aggravating that he can't do anything about it.
Jay Girard, owner of Lafayette Press, another Hayward Street business, doesn't like it either.
Hayward Street is blocked just outside his front door, but he said it doesn't harm his business because it doesn't rely on customers who come in off the street.
Another retailer said the closed streets force his customers to travel several blocks out of their way to reach his business, but he didn't want his name used. "The last thing I need is a city inspector showing up," he said.
Lawyers (the people politicians call in when they want to get out of a jam) have warned against taking down the barriers and opening the city property to through traffic. That would not make the street a street in the legal sense, meaning the city could be sued for accidents or injuries on the faux street.
He said there are alternative routes to LeBlanc's Hardware. Most people can drive up Valley Street, take a right on Wilson Street and easily reach the hardware store, he said.
LeBlanc bristles at the suggestion by Gatsas and others that the street closings were done properly and everybody had an opportunity for input. The closings were one detail of the overall $43 million project, and no one read the fine print, he said.
He said Gatsas, who had the complex built, is the one who really wants to keep the streets closed, and no one will stand up to him. "The department heads, they're like bobble-head dolls. They want to keep their jobs," LeBlanc said.
He lost on a close vote of aldermen, after city officials presented a letter from a lawyer warning against the move.
"It's a nice slap in the face to the people," an aggravated Shea said after the vote. "I'll be back again, don't worry about it."
Just ask Tom Deblois, a former state senator who owns the office building on Rogers Street. The property lost a driveway, thanks to the new complex.
Mark Hayward's City Matters runs Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and on UnionLeader.com. He is not related to Hayward Street, but he gets a kick whenever he drives down it.