During the City Council's Aug. 26 meeting, Our Town Belfast proposed several safety changes downtown, including new signs, crosswalks, a one-way entrance and prohibition of bike-riding on city sidewalks.

The proposals, spurred by a busy summer downtown, came after City Manager Joe Slocum drafted a list of changes and prohibitions at a previous council meeting.

“Suddenly, when a local municipality decides to change a stop sign here or change something there, everybody in town thinks ‘oh this is the time to change the speed on my road, to create a cul-de-sac on my road, to make it a dead end, to put a sidewalk on it,’” Slocum said. “So, we have people coming out of the walls with suggestions, which is great, but I’m having a hard time keeping up with them … with all the other stuff we have to do.”

Skateboarding is already banned on downtown sidewalks, but the organization wants signs placed stating that. The organization also would like the council to ban bicycling on sidewalks, with corresponding signs.

Councilors felt that putting more signs up along Main and High streets would suffocate the area. They talked about limiting signage by placing new signs where they can be seen by most people traveling through downtown.

“My concern with this is that we’re changing our ordinance, or in the process, for city property and we’re in the process of considering dogs on leashes and smoking and those things are also going to need signs,” Mayor Samantha Paradis said.

“… I would want the other issues that we are currently addressing to all be on the same signage so we don’t have five different signs 10 feet from each other …. I just envision it being a potpourri of signs,” she said.

Councilor Mike Hurley was concerned about skateboarders feeling targeted and lashing out.

“Let’s all agree, I think anything on four wheels or two wheels on sidewalks is ridiculous, unless it’s a wheelchair,” Hurley said. “ … I can tell you, the chief and the police do not wish to have this as a war with the skateboarders because that’s what it’ll turn into very quickly.”

Our Town Belfast Executive Director Zach Schmesser went on to discuss changes to the Washington Street public parking lot’s lower driveway on Main Street. He discussed options including adding a crosswalk, placing a stop sign or changing to a one-way-only entrance.

He argued there is not enough of a sight-line around parked cars to safely exit and it is difficult to see pedestrians as they walk down the hill toward the harbor. The most-discussed idea was the one-way entrance.

Councilors had mixed reactions. City Councilor Eric Sanders said he supports one-way parking lot entrances. Other councilors were worried that allowing traffic to exit only from one driveway would bind up traffic exiting through the upper access road by Traci's restaurant.

“If you’re going to have all the traffic in that parking lot come out on Washington Street, when it’s busy, there’s often almost a constant flow of pedestrians crossing Washington Street,” City Councilor Neal Harkness said. “And the visibility there, I don’t think is much better than at the other end. The one-way in is fine but the one-way out I think is going to be a real mess.”

Adding a crosswalk between upper Main Street and lower Main Street also was discussed. Councilors decided the best place for a crosswalk would be near the intersection of Federal and Main streets to the other side of Main Street.

The council voted to consider the items in a first reading at a later meeting.

In other business, councilors approved a tree planting in Heritage Park honoring Laila Al-Matrouk, a local teen who died Aug. 7, 2018.

The proposal by Parks and Recreation Director Norm Poirier and local resident Derek DeJoy states that the city will provide labor and a granite block for the monument, but DeJoy’s committee will cover all other costs and resources.

“Her spirit sort of infused Belfast. For a young woman, she was quite remarkable. She was very engaging; she was a social activist,” DeJoy said.

In response to a proposal from Hurley, councilors voted to declare browntail moths a public nuisance in an effort to raise awareness at the state level of the moths as a public health issue.

Symptoms of outbreaks caused by browntail moths' toxic hairs are a red, bumpy and itchy skin rash that lasts from a few hours to several days. Airborne hairs can cause respiratory issues. People who have concerns should contact their local health care provider or the poison center at 1-800-222-1222.