A Bangor City Council panel will consider extending until mid-October a downtown street closure that has been in place this summer to boost outdoor restaurant dining.
The committee will also consider a request for the city to limit the use of chalk in the downtown district to those with event permits, after police recently issued a criminal trespass order to a Bangor man who was erasing another group’s chalk messages.
The Bangor council’s Business and Economic and Development Committee will consider the two measures at a meeting Tuesday evening. The full City Council would then consider the committee’s recommendations.
A short section of Broad Street was closed to vehicle traffic earlier this year in an effort to increase the amount of outside seating for downtown restaurants, to allow for better social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. The closure is set to end Sept. 7, but some of the businesses affected have asked the city to extend the closure until Oct. 13, the day after Indigenous People’s Day.
A number of downtown business owners have said that the street closure has helped them offset losses from the coronavirus pandemic, creating some vibrancy and enough space for socially distanced dining in West Market Square.
Bangor’s downtown coordinator, Betsy Lundy, surveyed people to get their opinion on the matter. Of businesses, property owners and residents located directly on Broad Street or nearby, 54.5 percent said the closure had had a positive affect on their businesses or lives. Meanwhile, 22.7 percent said they had a neutral opinion on the closure, and 22.7 said it had had a negative impact. Sixty-three percent said they would approve of extending the closure through mid-October, and 22.7 said they would not approve.
Of businesses, residents and property owners located more generally in the downtown area, the results were similar, with 48.7 percent having a positive opinion of the closure, 30.8 percent having a neutral opinion and 20.5 percent having a negative opinion. Fifty-nine percent of downtown businesses, residents and property owners supported extending the closures, and 23 percent opposed it.
If the Business and Economic Development Committee approves the extension of the closure, the matter would go before the Bangor City Council for approval next week.
As for a chalking ordinance, Lundy said the Downtown Bangor Partnership unanimously voted to ask the City Council to approve an ordinance that would limit the use of chalk within the downtown district to those with event permits, and require the permit holder to clean up the chalking within a specified amount of time. Presently, anyone can write or draw with chalk on any sidewalk in downtown Bangor, with no obligation to clean it up.
“Recent events called attention to the fact that while chalk writing can be an effective form of exercising First Amendment rights, it can detract from the experience of business owners, residents and visitors downtown as there is currently no system in place for clean up,” said Lundy, who said lots of chalk on sidewalks can quickly become an eyesore, regardless of the content.
Chalking became a hot topic last week, after Bangor resident Scott Hall was issued a criminal trespass order after Bangor police say he got into a verbal altercation with a member of the Mansion Church, a local church that regularly writes religious messages with chalk on downtown sidewalks. Hall was erasing the church’s chalk messages, which he and others say are demeaning and cruel toward people in Bangor’s LGBTQ community. The city rescinded Hall’s criminal trespass order on Friday.
If the business and economic development board approves the creation of such an ordinance for chalking downtown, city staff would draft it, and it would then go before the City Council for approval later in the summer.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed the wrong day of the week for the committee’s meeting.