BERLIN — Concerns over sidewalk clutter arose during this week’s Berlin Historic District Commission (HDC) meeting including perceived safety issues with restaurant tables and A-frame signs.
At end of their meeting on Wednesday, several HDC members voiced concern about the condition of sidewalks in town, specifically the A-frame signs and even a few tables that have been blocking pedestrians recently. For example, HDC president Carol Rose drew attention to several tables that had been placed outside of The Globe restaurant.
“If you had to walk by there today, you’d have to go into the street to get past those tables,” she said.
HDC member Joel Todd agreed but pointed out that nearby Siculi restaurant has done the exact same thing and limited pedestrian routes by putting tables outside of their location.
“It’s going to be a real problem this summer,” he predicted.
Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward told the HDC that he has heard a number of complaints about the tables and that they are not permitted under town code.
“The code is very clear that business is to be conducted wholly within closed buildings,” he said, adding that there is a little leeway with something like the porch at the Atlantic Hotel.
However, Ward is unable to take official action against the restaurants because he “can’t enforce zoning in a public right of way.” When the State Highway Administration (SHA) recently put in new sidewalks, Ward said that he’d hoped something might be done. Since nothing changed, he told the HDC his office doesn’t have many options at the moment.
Town Councilmember Lisa Hall, who attended the HDC meeting, said the sidewalk blockage should be considered an issue of public safety.
“I have the fear of a car jumping the curb and rolling into those tables,” she said.
Hall didn’t just take issue with tables being put on the sidewalk. She also mentioned concerns over A-frame signs advertising stores also blocking the public right-of-way. The congestion keeps the paths from complying with American Disability Act (ADA) standards, she said.
“The fact that the state has stepped up and made the sidewalks in Berlin ADA required sidewalks, I feel that Berlin has a duty to maintain these sidewalks to be ADA required,” she said.
With A-frames at least Ward confirmed that draft language for revisions to the town code, which are currently under review by the Planning Commission, would only allow signs on private property, not in the public way. This would mean that the A-frames can’t be placed on the sidewalk and could only be set on a piece of property owned by a business such as a yard or porch.