Disabled woman fights to get a walkway paved behind her rowhouse in Hampden Residents say drainage problems could occur

September 16, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

On an alley named Sweet Air Street in Hampden, a neighborhood is bitterly divided over paving a walkway that a 54-year-old disabled woman says she needs to allow her easier access in and out of her house.

Donna Mullinix lives on Social Security disability, retired from her job as a city clerk. Doctors have told her it is only a matter of time before the nerve damage she suffered to her spine in a fall 12 years ago affects her legs.

"I will eventually be in a wheelchair," she said yesterday. To prepare for the inevitable, she said, she petitioned the city in May to pave the dirt walkway behind her rowhouse and those of her neighbors, allowing her to enter from the rear. The steep steps at the front of her rowhouse -- one of five residences along the ivy-covered alley near Falls Road -- will someday be %o impossible for her to climb, Mullinix said.

"If I give up, I'll be trapped inside my house," Mullinix said.

But neighbors oppose her request, saying they were not properly consulted. They have petitioned the city's Department of Public Works to put a hold on the project.

"We're being stepped on here," said Ross Lopez, a 32-year-old ** carpenter, who lives on Sweet Air. "We don't want things to get slapped down without any thought."

Public works officials are scheduled to meet tomorrow to "try to come to a workable solution to please everyone," spokesman Robert Murrow said.

Transportation engineers are at work on the project, and a cost estimate is not available, officials said. Whether residents would bear part of that cost will be discussed at the meeting.

Residents are concerned that paving the walkway with asphalt would create a drainage problem, flooding their basements. Lopez said he offered to build a brick walkway for Mullinix, a claim she denies.

Another neighbor, city firefighter Terry Morgan, said that he resented Mullinix's request because she is a tenant, not a homeowner. "I don't see how a renter can dictate," he said. "Leave it as it is. Nobody's complained before."

He continued, "My theory is, she's not a homeowner. She can go anywhere she wants, a high-rise for the handicapped. Why should she burden people who pay [property] taxes?"

He and others said that concrete or asphalt might create the appearance of a public sidewalk and attract unwanted foot traffic behind their homes.

The antagonists are so upset that they have stopped speaking to each other.

"It's like a dysfunctional family, neighborhood event," said Richard Warren, who lives one street away and is neutral on the issue.

For Mullinix, moving is not an attractive prospect. "I'm happy here. I have family in the neighborhood," she said.

She can walk slowly and picks up her grandson Matthew from his preschool in the afternoons. The exercise is necessary as a way to keep herself mobile as long as possible, she said: "I force myself to walk every day."

Mullinix has the support of at least one resident of Sweet Air -- the recent widow of a wheelchair user who couldn't get in or out of his home without assistance.

"To me it sounds as if they don't want anything to do with the disabled or people who don't own their own home," said Linda Bunting.

L Mullinix has the backing of the local community association.

"We're all for anything that would help the handicapped," said Ruth Ruggiero, vice president of the Hampden Community Council.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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