Thursday, August 18, 2005

Downtown walkabout finds support for benches

A petition signed by some 75 downtown merchants was given to the City Council at Monday's (Aug. 15, 2005) meeting. Spearheaded by resident Cheryl Arana, it asked that all of the new benches installed along Front Street between Madison and Roosevelt Avenues be removed.

Council President Linda Carter called for an immediate site inspection to take place the next day. At 10 a.m. Tuesday morning Carter, City Administrator Norton Bonaparte, City Engineer Carl Turner, and Pat Ballard Fox from the Planning Department set out to see firsthand where benches were placed and what merchants had to say.

Along the way the group quickly agreed on several points: the benches were too wide for the sidewalk ...

... most were too close to the curb, making it difficult to open a car door without hitting the wrought iron bench leg ... would have to be moved away from a fire hydrant ... and several others placed under trees in a shady nook and covered with bird droppings would be moved, though not removed.

The group struck up conversations with several shop owners they met during their walking tour.

Choong Y. Hwang of Ped Eze Sports and Vice President of Plainfield's Special Improvement District (SID), said that when it comes to attitudes about the benches, "it depends on who you speak to."

They dropped into to talk with longtime merchant, Lisa Cohen of Suburban Jewelers. Her view, "I kind of like the idea of benches--as long as they're not a nuisance."

Elliot Simmons of Simmons Pest Management liked the street furniture without reservation.

"They help," Simmons said, referring to how the benches could help attract business to the downtown.

"I don't have anything negative to say," he added.

While it is too soon for a final evaluation of the benches and the streetscape plan, one point was clear to Carter, "We need to have better communication between the city and the merchants."

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: streetscape, benches