BERLIN – In spite of concerns from representatives of the Adkins Company, town officials approved a prohibition of trucks on Baker Street.
On Monday the Berlin Town Council updated the definition of “truck” in the town code and then passed a resolution to prohibit trucks on Baker Street that goes into effect May 28.
Mayor Gee Williams said the changes were meant to slow the deterioration of historic Baker Street, the only road in town still featuring oyster shell cement.
“This town is committed to preserving that roadway,” Mayor Gee Williams said.
The language approved defines a truck as any vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) exceeding 14,000 pounds. The resolution approved prohibits trucks from traveling on Baker Street unless they’re making deliveries to a business or residence on the street.
Richard Holland, representing the Adkins Company, told the council that the prohibition would prevent the company’s trucks from using Baker Street. Currently, many of the trucks traveling to the store access it via Baker Street because the Adkins Company has closed its portion of Harrison Avenue to the public. The section of road in front of the store was closed by the Adkins Company — and blocked with a barricade — last year when its owners and town leaders couldn’t come to agreement on a suitable price for the road, which the town wanted to buy.
“Our only means of access is Baker Street…,” Holland said. “If you pass this, you’ll shut our business down.”
Holland said the Harrison family owned the portion of Harrison Avenue north of the Adkins Company and could potentially prevent vehicles from using it to access the store.
Town officials assured Holland that the Harrison family said the Town of Berlin owned the section of Harrison Avenue he referenced.
“We do not see that as an issue there,” Williams said.
Doug Parks, a resident of Baker Street who shared concerns about the deteriorating street and the increased traffic it was experiencing months ago, asked what effect the truck prohibition would have. He said the Adkins Company owned property on Baker Street and its trucks would be able to make deliveries.
“The delivery would have to be made on Baker Street,” said Dave Gaskill, the town’s attorney.
Holland pointed out the company only owned about 60 feet on Baker Street.
“If you want to unload your trucks on Baker Street, you can,” Gaskill said.
Nevertheless, Williams said the purpose of the prohibition was to prevent the further destruction of Baker Street.
“We’ve been advised that without a limitation its lifespan is diminished significantly,” he said. “This is not aimed at any business. It’s not about that.”
He added that the portion of Baker Street in the worst condition was the section east of the railroad tracks, furthest from Adkins.
Holland continued to question the ownership of Harrison Avenue.
“If you take the barriers down you have access,” Gaskill said. “I’m told by Mr. Harrison that his great uncle deeded that to the town.”
Williams agreed that no one was disputing that claim.
Councilman Thom Gulyas said no private property owner had ever closed Harrison Avenue until the Adkins Company did.
“The only time it’s been closed is when they closed it themselves,” he said.
Ann Drive resident Gary Caldwell said Harrison Avenue had served as a truck route for vehicles avoiding the center of town for years. Since Adkins closed the road to the public, trucks have been forced to travel the tighter roads in town.
“They’re all up on the sidewalk,” he said, adding that the town would have to repair the gradual damage that was occurring. “I think it’s a disgrace that you put the barricades up.”
Holland replied that Adkins Company had paid for years for the section of Harrison Avenue in front of the store to be paved. The last time the town paved the road, he said the company was asked to pay $37,000.
“We can’t pay for a public street to be paved every time it needs to be paved,” he said. “We’re not going to. We can’t build a Cannery Village over there. It’s four acres. If we’re going to pave it for whatever number of years and pay for that and then at the end just give you the road … Something’s wrong with this picture. It’s been wrong. It is remaining wrong. It is wrong for you to bring on a resolution whereby we are blocked from using Baker if it’s our only access. ”
Holland added that if the town did indeed own the section of Harrison Avenue previously owned by the Harrison family, he’d simply move the barricade from that end of the street to the opposite end so that his trucks could come in from the north.
“If you’re asking us to take the barricade down completely, it’s not going to happen unless we make some kind of deal on the price of the property,” he said.
Williams asked why Holland had stopped negotiating with the town when the issue was discussed last year.
“We would rather do a Cannery Village is the reason we stopped talking to you,” Holland said. “We’re trying to sell the land. We are the seller, you would be the buyer. If you want a truck route on the west side of Berlin, then you’re going to have to come to some conclusion of how you’re going to get it.”
Williams said the town tried that last year.
“We were trying to buy it,” he said. “It’s called purchasing … This conversation has gone on since Ron Bireley was mayor. We’re ready to negotiate. We’ve been ready.”
Williams said that it was the Adkins Company that said the matter would have to be settled in court.
Holland said the town hadn’t offered near what the appraisal called for.
“Let’s get this done,” he said, adding that by moving the barricade one end of the street would be open. “If you want to negotiate, we negotiate.”
In spite of that consensus, after the council approved the new definition of truck and moved on to considering the actual resolution, Adkins Company attorney Gil Allen again questioned the ownership of the portion of Harrison Avenue north of the store. He suggested the town attorney locate the deed or acquire a confirmatory quitclaim to ensure the municipality owned the section of street.
“No. No. No,” Councilman Dean Burrell said. “What we’re doing by considering this resolution, we’re trying to protect the town investment of, in taxpayer money, the improvements we’re going to make on Baker Street.”
He said the town had no control over the Adkins Company.
“It’s not our responsibility,” Burrell said. “If you want assurances that Harrison Avenue is a public street or whatever you need, you need to obtain that. We’re not going to put ourselves on the spot for that information.”
He said the Adkins Company’s deliveries were under its control.
“Sir, we are considering insuring and safeguarding the investment of Baker Street,” Burrell said. “That’s all we’re doing.”
Councilman Zack Tyndall said that if the town was not the clear owner of the section of Harrison Avenue in question, it could cause difficulties for the Adkins Company. He said he wanted to see the ownership clarified before the resolution was passed.
“Harrison Avenue is open to the Adkins Company,” Councilman Elroy Brittingham said. “It always has been.”
“Your self-imposed access problem is not something the town’s done,” he said. “You’ve done it to yourself. You can resolve it … You talk about moving the barrier. You don’t need a barrier. All we need to do is work out an agreement.”
Allen said the town’s potential purchase of the Adkins Company’s section of street was a separate issue. He continued to question the ownership of the portion of Harrison Avenue north of Adkins Company. Brittingham said the town would not have invested in the property by maintaining it for decades if it didn’t own it.
Allen pointed out that if the Harrison family did own the section of street, they could limit access to it and therefore prevent trucks from reaching the Adkins Company.
“What would they gain by doing that?” Gulyas said. “There’s only been one person that’s closed a street in this town to my knowledge. One person. That one person can open it up.”
Allen said the removal of the barricade had nothing to do with confirming that Harrison Avenue north of Adkins was a public street.
“Just move your barricade and you’ve got full access,” Gulyas said. “We’re not trying to be difficult but I do believe someone is.”
Williams said he didn’t understand where the mistrust was coming from. He said all the town wanted to do was purchase the section of road it didn’t own and maintain it. He said town leaders just wanted to make Harrison Avenue the street it should be. He said he didn’t know of any “adversarial party” that was trying to keep that from happening and that any fear from the Adkins Company’s connections was self-inflicted.
“I think quite frankly, given that we’re a small town, a little bit of goodwill, a little bit of not acting like we’re out here to cut each other’s throats, would go a long way in beginning this process,” Williams said.
While Tyndall made a motion to delay the resolution until the ownership of the section of street north of the store was verified, it failed to get a second. The council voted 4-1, with Tyndall opposed, to approve the resolution banning trucks on Baker Street.
Burrell then for any past issues he might have had with previous town officials. He said going forward the town was just working to improve Harrison Avenue.
“I think if you’re going to spend a lot of money on Harrison Avenue you need to find out if you own it and how much of it you own,” Holland said.
In response to Caldwell’s calls for him to tear down the barricade, Holland offered brief reply.
“No,” he said. “It’ll just switch.”
When asked after Monday’s meeting why the town didn’t pursue an eminent domain filing, Williams said that was a last resort.
“A court filing by the town sets a horrible precedent for the Town of Berlin,” Williams said. “It signals to all property owners that the town is unwilling to negotiate a fair purchase price for private property, in this case a roadbed. That would be totally at odds with reality.”
Williams stressed that the Adkins Company cut off negotiations last year. Holland told The Dispatch last June the Adkins Company was seeking $400,000 for the property.
“The Adkins Company, not the town, cut off all discussions and motor vehicle access, after each party received separate appraisals for the portion of Harrison Avenue under consideration for purchase,” Williams said. “This is a crude and uncalled for way to seek an appropriate and fair purchase of a roadbed that is 50 feet wide by 517 feet long that has been in public use for over a century.”