BERLIN – The bevy of sandwich signs downtown are not hindering accessibility on Berlin’s sidewalks, according to town officials.
Mayor Gee Williams said this week that an inspection by representatives of the Federal Highway Administration revealed that the town was Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. The inquiry by transportation officials came after a complaint filed last year citing the signs, benches and planters on the sidewalks as hindrances to accessibility. Williams said the complaint was filed by Chuck Ward, the town’s former planning director who resigned in 2013.
“The complaint was filed by a disgruntled former employee …” Williams said. “One of the problems we were having was he was vocally against all of those things.”
Ward, when contacted this week, declined to comment about the complaint.
According to Williams, Ward filed his complaint in March of 2015 but the town wasn’t made aware of it until mid-June of this year. Williams says transportation officials visited the town, reviewed its paperwork and walked the streets before determining that there was no ADA violation.
“It was, I don’t feel, a valid complaint,” Williams said. “It was more of a vendetta.”
Williams says he’s proud of the work the town has done in recent years to increase its accessibility. He said that while few municipalities were familiar with what the Americans with Disabilities Act entailed when it became law in 1990, awareness has increased.
“Like most small towns, over time, we’ve become more compliant,” he said.
He said the only time he’d ever seen the sandwich signs in the way was when they had blown over on a windy winter day.
Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director, said that any downtown business was allowed to have a sandwich sign.
“They get one and it does not have to be in front of their business,” he said.
The signs have to be made of wood and measure two feet wide by three feet tall. A merchant can display a sidewalk sign after paying a $50 fee and having the sign approved by Engelhart’s office.
Engelhart says there have been few issues associated with the sidewalk signs in recent years. His office makes an effort to monitor the town’s sidewalks to make sure that they remain ADA compliant as more signs, planters and the like are added downtown. He said he even kept an eye on the town’s garbage cans to make sure they didn’t create accessibility issues as the town experienced the summer’s influx of tourists.
“People are everywhere,” he said.
Williams said Ward’s complaint was the first one ever made against the town. He says the town has done much to improve accessibility in recent years. Williams himself heard from two residents, one in a wheelchair and one using a motorized scooter, who praised the changes that allowed them to traverse the town more easily.
“I don’t know how much it costs,” Williams said, “but after hearing those two comments it was worth it.”
Williams said improvements, which are prioritized based on safety concerns, would continue in the future.
“You just have to take one street at a time,” he said.