Berlin Council Looks Past Sidewalk Concerns

BERLIN — A Berlin couple is vowing to start a petition to change the town’s code regarding sidewalks to remedy what they view as a “serious pedestrian safety problem” along William Street.

After hearing their concerns Tuesday, the Berlin Mayor and Council was not willing to take any action with Mayor Gee Williams telling the couple that he did not feel a majority of people in town shared their view. The council did agree to look further into the issue in the future and promised to take any petition the couple submits seriously.

Resident Tracy Albrecht spoke at Tuesday’s Mayor and Council meeting on the parking situation near Venable Cleaners on William Street. Currently, Albrecht said that cars will often park on the slopped sidewalk immediately in front of Venable when picking up or dropping off dry cleaning.

“The fact of the matter is it’s a sidewalk and there’s no place on the sidewalk to go when people pull up there in cars,” she said. “I’ve seen children jump up on the brick wall to get out of the way or go out on the highway.”

According to Tracy Albrecht, people are forced to walk around the cars to continue on the sidewalk, putting them at risk. Children especially are in danger, she asserted.

“It’s common sense. You have women and children and babies. You’re only asking for an accident to happen,” she said.

Tracy’s husband, David Albrecht, claimed that he personally has been run off of the road numerous times because of the blockages created by people doing curbside dry cleaning pickup or deposit.

“The traffic is nothing like it used to be. People don’t have any respect for anybody,” he said.

The Albrechts asked that the town change its code to make it illegal to park a car in a manner that would block the sidewalk in any way.

“They have to walk out into the highway, around the cars, to continue on the sidewalks. Now that has to be a situation that needs to be seriously addressed,” said Tracy Albrecht. “I don’t want to wait for one child to be killed before people look at it and say, ‘wow we have a problem.’ It’s a problem now.”

Mayor Gee Williams told the Albrechts he respected their concerns but said that he didn’t share their fears. More importantly, he doesn’t feel that a large number of people in town consider the parking situation around Venable to be a problem.

“We’ve never had anybody, and I’ve been to most of the meetings for about 40 years, complain about this,” he said.

Part of the reason, according to Tracy Albrecht, is that some people don’t believe the council will listen to their concerns.

“The people that I’d asked to come up here have said they’ve come in front of the town council for other things and they get totally blown off and it’s not worth it,” she said.

Williams disagreed and said the group always tries to be polite and reasonable whenever they are approached. He pointed out that there is no history of accidents at the location near Venable and while the Albrechts claimed that the spot violated American Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, Williams assured them that the State Highway Administration has been contacted multiple times and has confirmed that there is nothing illegal.

The mayor said that the parking situation on William Street has been unchanged for half a century with no problems. The history of the location didn’t mollify the Albrechts.

“Fifty years ago, we didn’t have the traffic that we have in town today,” said Tracy Albrecht. “We didn’t have the bus route that’s there now; we didn’t have the horse and carriage route that’s there now.”

Her husband agreed, saying, “I don’t care if it’s a drop-off point for the cleaners that have been there for 50 years.” He reiterated that he believed it to be illegal to park a car in a manner that would block any part of the sidewalk.

According to Berlin Police Department Chief Arnold Downing, most drivers don’t cause any kind of disruption when using Venable. Some, however, might cut corners and park illegally or otherwise drive dangerously for whatever reason. But those are the exceptions to the rule, he told the Albrechts whenever they or their neighbors observe something like that they should report it immediately.

“It’s the same people every week, every day; we can’t legislate common sense,” he said.

Councilwoman Lisa Hall added that people should take a picture whenever they see illegal or dangerous driving so that Downing and his department have evidence.

“Everyone has got cell phones now. If you see people doing crazy things pop their picture. He needs documentation,” said Hall.

They did try to keep an eye on the neighborhood, said Tracy Albrecht, but it shouldn’t be up to residents or the police to fix what she saw as a town problem.

“A sidewalk issue should not be the issue of the police department to babysit if there’s a town ordinance saying that there’s no parking there,” she said.

After all of the comments, Williams stuck to his statement that most people in town do not have a problem with allowing parking on the sidewalk in front of the drycleaners. Calling it a “solution looking for a problem,” the mayor advised the Albrechts to start a petition if they truly believe residents share their concern.

Tracy Albrecht said that she was willing to do so but asked if it really had to go that far before the town changed the code.

“Yes because you’re basically talking about putting a business out of business,” he said.

After the Albrechts left, Councilman Dean Burrell asked that the council take the couple’s concerns to heart and look into the situation individually. He also suggested that they think about Tracy Albrecht’s statement that residents have felt stonewalled by town government before and make sure to be as transparent and accessible as possible moving forward.