BELFAST — Owners of the James P. White House at 1 Church St., the triangular-shaped property between High and Church streets, are placing a 6-foot vinyl fence around the property, blocking off a walkway running across their property that connects the two streets and which pedestrians have used.

The Planning and Codes Office was alerted when the owners started putting up the fence and notified them that they had to have a permit to put up a fence that is over 4 feet tall, Director Bub Fournier said. The property owners have submitted a permit and as of July 26 Planning and Codes was still waiting on a request for more information from the property owners regarding the permit.

Fournier has heard from several members of the public with multiple types of concerns, from the aesthetics of the fence to possible altercations between cars and pedestrians if that walkway is cut off.

Yasmeen Walker, one of the property owners, has had concerns about the liability placed upon them should somebody get hurt using the walkway, since it is on their property, she said. They have tried to discuss the issue with City Council several times since they took ownership in 2015.

The paved walkway used by pedestrians is lined with trees where limbs and other natural debris sometimes falls on the path, she said. Part of the property owners’ frustration is that the city directs pedestrians across their property by placing crosswalks in front of the walkway but does not maintain the walkway or assume liability for it.

She said they have submitted several versions of easements that would give the public permanent access across their land to move between the two streets safely but also expunge the property owners of any liability should a pedestrian get hurt on their property. They have not heard anything back from councilors about the easements they have offered.

The property owners paved the end of the property where High and Church streets meet so the public could use that area as an access point outside the roadway, instead of using the old walkway, which runs through the property, creating a triangular section toward the tip of their property cut off from the rest of their yard, she said.

It is the access point on their property that they are giving the public in the most recent iteration of an easement the property owners have submitted to the city, she said. They also requested a $5,000 reduction in their tax valuation in exchange for the easement. They have not heard back from councilors about the proposed easement.

The Republican Journal staff looked through several deeds for their property dating back to multiple previous owners and there is no mention of a public easement or right of way across their property in any of those deeds. Deed language describes the triangular shaped property that meets at the intersection of High and Church Streets.

Maine law dictates that the public cannot acquire a right-of-way or other easement by adverse use unless it has been continually used for at least 20 years, uninterrupted. A property owner can prevent the adverse possession by posting a sign with their intention to prevent the public acquisition for six consecutive days in a conspicuous spot on the property.

Bruce Snider, Pedestrian, Biking and Hiking Committee chairman, is not concerned about the aesthetics of the fence, but rather the issues that could arise if pedestrians do not have adequate access between the two streets, he said.

The city needs to do whatever it can to get people safely from one street to the other, he said. He hopes that access to the walkway can be maintained but if it cannot then the city needs to take measures to rectify the connectivity issues, which could include relocating crosswalks in the area.

If access to the walkway is cut of then it could result in more people walking into the roadway creating an unsafe situation, he said. But he is confident that the city will do something to maintain safe access in that area, whatever the solution may be.

The White House was constructed in 1840 and was owned by several prominent people historically, according to the Library of Congress. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Walker said the fence is part of multiple renovations the family is doing to the property. She had seen the same type of vinyl fencing on neighboring properties and liked the look of it. She thought a white fence would look good with the historic White House.

Ultimately, the property owners do not want to create an unsafe situation where pedestrians are forced to use the road to access the two streets, she said. But they do not want to bare the legal burden should somebody get hurt accessing the two streets through their property.

It is why they are offering the area at the end of the sharp corner of their property where High and Church streets meet as a public right of way through the proposed easement, instead of the old paved portion that cuts directly through their property.

Mayor Eric Sanders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.