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Watertown City Council votes to find owners of privately owned section of Palmer Street

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WATERTOWN — City Council members on Monday night narrowly agreed it is time to find out who owns a deteriorating section of Palmer Street that has been deemed unsafe.

In a 3-2 vote, the council instructed City Attorney Robert J. Slye to start the process of identifying the owner of the stretch of road riddled with potholes and lacking sidewalks.

For about a decade, city officials have debated whether the city should acquire that stretch of street and make repairs.

The section in question is known as Palmer Street Extension, City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk said Monday night. The Palmer Street section between Arsenal and Emmett streets already is under the city’s jurisdiction; it became a city-dedicated street in 1897.

Councilman Stephen A. Jennings said he did not realize how bad it was until he recently drove on it. “The street is a disaster,” he said before voting in favor of determining the owner. “I think we should acquire it and fix it.”

He was joined by Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns in going forward with the research. Council members Teresa R. Macaluso and Joseph M. Butler Jr. voted against, saying the city does not have the money to repair such a little-traveled road.

“I do not want to invest a lot of money on land we don’t own,” Ms. Macaluso said.

But the mayor said the council can decide later whether to proceed with the road project, which would cost $230,000 to $660,000, depending on the scope of the work and who does it.

Determining ownership is a problem in taking over the road. In the past, the city tried unsuccessfully to figure out who owns that section. An abstract firm was hired several years ago to research it, but did not finish the job because a previous City Council did not want to spend $2,500 to complete it, Mr. Slye said.

The city would have to prove to a state Supreme Court judge that the city did everything it could to identify the owners, Mr. Slye said. He noted it was 1884 when the city last knew the owner of the street was A. Palmer Smith. The whereabouts of his heirs are unknown.

The task of fixing the privately owned and poorly maintained stretch came up at a City Council meeting last month. Its deteriorating condition has been a source of complaints for years. After the matter came up at a March 17 meeting, Brian H. Murray, who owns Palmer Street Apartments, said he would donate the part of the road he owns to the city because he believes the city should repair it.

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