Hole In Sidewalk Falls Into Black Hole


Problem Went Unfixed When Message Fell Through Cracks

August 16, 2009|By Liz F. Kay

The problem:: A hole in an East Baltimore sidewalk remained unfilled for four months.

The back story:: Harvey Levy owns the Sportsmart on Exeter Street, a family business for 30 years.

He noticed a hole in the sidewalk in the 400 block of N. Gay St., near Orleans Street, in April and called 311 to report it. The opening, edged in metal, looked like any number of water meter vaults found elsewhere in the city - except the cover was missing.

When Levy saw that prompt action had not been taken, he called back. The 311 operator told him that it wasn't a water meter, but the city's Department of Transportation had been notified because the concrete was crumbling around the edge of the hole.

Again, Levy waited, but nothing changed, except that someone had placed an orange traffic cone on top of the hole. When Watchdog visited last week, the cone had been pushed down inside the hole, along with some trash. The combination made the neighborhood look bad, Levy said.

"It's tough to convince people that they're not coming to the 'hood when there's holes in the sidewalk," he said.

Levy says his concern is not completely altruistic, because the problem affects his property value. Frustrated by the apparent lack of response, Levy contacted Watchdog.

"You get tired of calling," he said.

It seems the Department of Transportation never got the message. Staff from the city Department of Public Works confirmed last week that the hole was not caused by a missing meter cover; instead, it's an abandoned coal chute that led inside a building, said agency spokesman Kurt Kocher.

"It turned out to be something nobody knew what to do with," he said. DPW staff was still trying to find out how the problem fell through the cracks.

"We have to look into it to see that it doesn't happen again," Kocher said.

Workers from the Transportation Department's maintenance division fixed the problem because it had persisted for so long. But the property owner was actually responsible for repairing the hole, said Richard Hooper, chief of the maintenance division.

If the problem had been referred to the Transportation Department, as it should have been, a footway inspector would have identified what it was and alerted code enforcement, part of the city Department of Housing and Community Development, Hooper said. Code enforcement would have followed up with the property owner, issuing a citation if necessary.

Who can fix this:: City residents should call 311 to report problems.

- Liz F. Kay

Need help?

Is there something in your neighborhood that's not getting fixed? Tell us where the problem is and how long it's been there by e-mailing watchdog@baltsun.com or calling 410-332-6735.

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