By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The mayor’s aide said the city is encountering fewer problems than expected in its effort to install lights in downtown alleys for the safety of visitors.
The process of obtaining permission from property owners to install the lights may not take as long as originally thought, said David Van Dam, Mayor James Fiorentini’s chief of staff.
“The hope is we can get it done sooner rather than later,” Van Dam said yesterday. “The mayor wants to get this project done.”
City councilors have been pushing the mayor to install the lights, so people who park at the edge of downtown can walk through alleys without fear of safety problems or criminals.
When the council meets tonight, it will hear a report on progress the city has made on the project. Some councilors have criticized the mayor for taking too long to get the job done, after they suggested the lights several months ago.
Last month, Van Dam said he was researching the project and found some delays might happen due to the city needing approval of building owners to erect the lights, which could involve a lengthy legal process.
But yesterday, he said officials have discovered the process is not likely to be a long one.
Van Dam said he plans to inform the council tonight on which alleys have been identified as public and private, whether any easements would be required, and what kind of lights would be best — hard-wired or solar.
“I’ve had discussions with our city electrician as to what kinds of lights would work and I’ve spoken to insurance experts who said there is a benefit to illuminating private alleyways,” he said.
Last month, councilors criticized the mayor for taking too long to respond to what they indicated was an eight-month-old request that lighting and possibly video cameras be installed in downtown alleys for the safety and convenience of residents and visitors.
Councilors have said the alleys should be lit, especially since the city enacted paid parking on downtown’s primary streets last summer and began encouraging people to park further from the city center where parking is free.
“These paved alleys are shortcuts to Washington and Wingate Street, but they are not lit,” Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said last month. “There are people who want to use the alleys to get to the restaurants and lofts, but they aren’t comfortable walking through dark alleys at night.’’
Van Dam said the mayor supports the concept of illuminating alleys, but that there was a lot of work to do before any alleys could be fitted with lights. He said the buildings on which the lights would be installed are privately owned and that it would require an agreement with property owners.
“The city solicitor advised me that putting together an easement with a private property owner to illuminate an alleyway is not a long process,” Van Dam said yesterday. “Just as long as both parties agree, then it can be quick. But if they don’t agree, it can take longer.”
Van Dam said the city is looking at several alleys on or near Granite, Wingate and Washington streets as possibilities for lights. He said the administration has yet to broach the matter with any building owners in the area, pending further directives from the council. He said the city would likely buy and install the lights, and the building owner would pay for the electricity, which would likely not be that expensive, he said.
Councilors have said the city should use some of the money that’s been generated by the paid parking program and the local meals tax to pay for the lights. The city owns one of the alleys being considered for lighting, while the rest are on private property.