BERLIN – Members of the town’s historic district commission voiced strong objections to the idea of sidewalk decals designed to direct visitors to side street shops.
While members of the Berlin Historic District Commission (HDC) said they supported a plan to replace the wayfaring signs downtown, they expressed concerns regarding sidewalk decals.
“It does catch your eye but there’s nothing historic looking about the design of it,” HDC member Laura Stearns said. “It doesn’t go with the town.”
Ivy Wells, the town’s economic development director, presented plans for wayfaring designs and sidewalk decals to the commission Wednesday. While actual decisions regarding both issues will be made by town staff, Town Administrator Laura Allen said she did want feedback from the HDC.
According to Wells, the existing wayfaring signs situated throughout the downtown area need to be replaced.
“They’re a little dated,” she said. “They’re weathered. One of the things I hear is a lot of people don’t even see those.”
Merchant Robin Tomaselli, owner of Baked Dessert Café, agreed.
“What we currently have is useless,” she said.
HDC members voiced no major objections to the replacement of the signs but were quick to question the concept of sidewalk decals when Tomaselli brought up the issue.
Stearns pointed out the decals would be added to the existing array of sandwich signs and wayfaring signs.
“At what point do we take away the historic charm of our town?” she said.
Wells, sharing the black, white and yellow design proposed for the decals, said she envisioned placing six of them on the sidewalk at intersections. She said the 14-by-20-inch appliques would encourage tourists to visit the shops on side streets.
Allen said the decals could be a temporary option while officials explored alternatives, such as planters featuring shingles to guide visitors to side street shops.
“I feel a real sense of urgency from the businesses not on Main Street to address this issue,” she said.
HDC member Robert Poli said he wouldn’t be looking at the ground if he was walking on the sidewalk.
“How much can we do to preserve the look of the historic district if we keep adding color?” he said.
Commission member Mary Moore also expressed concern regarding the colors of the decals.
“I think it’s garish,” she said. “There’s so much going on the word that comes to mind is carnival. Berlin is not Ocean City.”
Carol Rose, chair of the commission, said she preferred the idea of a banner that could be hung during special events to point visitors toward side streets. Moore agreed.
“We would not care for the sidewalk applique,” Stearns said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Wells also approached the commission to discuss painting the downtown utility boxes. She introduced Stephen Decatur High School teacher Mary Berquist and said they’d talked about giving students the chance to paint the boxes. Allen said she’d seen it done in other cities.
“I think it’s a really cool idea,” she said.
HDC members disagreed.
“A utility box really should be hidden,” Poli said. “It shouldn’t even be visible and now we’re putting colors on it and it’s going to stand out.”
Wells said she was eager to provide local students with opportunities for public art. Stearns said rather than the historic district one of the town’s parks would be a better location.
Moore said she agreed with Poli. She said that walls, such as the one at the visitors center, could feature art work because buildings were meant to be noticed. She said utility boxes should not be.
“Berlin’s charm is we’re not Ocean City,” she said. “In Ocean City, I wouldn’t object to that.”
Wells pointed out that she knew of at least one historic district in a Florida town that had utility boxes adorned with artwork.
“I’m not so sure it’s as old as our historic district,” Rose said.
Allen said commission members made it clear they did not support the concept.
“We’ve got lots of other options we can explore those,” she said.
Though the commission was expected to select a chairman at this week’s meeting, members agreed to delay the vote. Rose and Moore turned down nominations for chair, and Poli said he’d rather delay the issue until all members were in attendance, as Betty Tustin was absent.