Downtown irons out planter debate

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After coming under fire, idea scrapped for wooden railing

CUMBERLAND — Following critical comments from the Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission on the possibility of iron railing being installed around planters on the downtown mall, the Downtown Development Commission has been sent back to square one by opting for temporary wooden fencing.

In an effort to discourage loitering, the DDC agreed in a meeting Thursday to install wooden fencing at the two planters at the east end of the mall at a cost of $600 per planter.

As the DDC continues to wrestle with the issue, Downtown Manager Ed Mullaney, who favors the iron railing, voiced his frustration with what he sees as delays in an already drawn-out affair.

“Spring is just around the corner. We have got to do something about this,” said Mullaney.

DDC chair Sandy Saville and downtown co-manager Jennifer Light made a presentation of the decorative Victorian iron railing idea to the historic commission in a meeting Wednesday.

The HPC made several critical remarks saying the railing had a “jailed-in appearance,” which they said sends the wrong message. They also feel that the variety of people patronizing downtown should be seen as a success.

The eight planters, which are 14 by 21 feet, would cost $4,300 each to surround with the railing.

“I think we have taken all this into consideration already,” said Mullaney. “Poll the business owners. People won’t come downtown because of the perception.”

Saville said she had not had any positive remarks on the railing idea, which caused Mullaney to reply that he has received positive feedback.

The comments of the HPC were defended at the meeting by DDC board members Dave Romero and Saville.

“I actually agree with some of their comments. I think they have some valid input,” said Romero.

“They (the HPC) didn’t come in at the last minute to push thier way in and unrail things. I invited them,” said Saville.

“It’s going to be a big visual change. We are looking for a solution,” said Saville.

Cumberland Police Lt. Steve Schellhaus suggested coating the planters with concrete and putting pointed stones on the top.

Saville said that they had been advised that people would put coats and backpacks on top and still sit there.

Officials at the meeting said that wooden fences had been used successfully in the past to deter loitering.

The fencing eventually deteriorated in the weather and was finally discarded in hopes of a more permanent solution.

The DDC also agreed to look into the idea of removing the planters and putting in ground-level plantings.

However, Kathy McKenney, historic preservation specialist with the city, told them that, around 10 years ago, an estimate came in at $10,000 each to remove the planters that were installed in the 1970s.

In an effort to explore all options, the DDC agreed to get a current cost estimate per planter for removal.

The DDC is also setting up a committee to look for a permanent solution for the planters.

In other downtown news, Chief of Police Charles Hinnant introduced a newly hired code enforcement officer at the DDC meeting.

The new hire is Larry Bascelli, a former corrections officer who recently retired from the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cresaptown.

Bascelli will enforce the rules and guidelines in place for the downtown area. He will tackle the loitering problems as well as address unlawful biking and skateboarding.

Although Bascelli will not have the power to arrest, he will have a radio and phone and will work closely with police.

Greg Larry can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .