Published: Jul 14, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 13, 2012 12:18 PM
Benches mar Hillsborough’s historic character
The Town of Hillsborough is sliding down a slippery slope, heading for a major disaster by allowing those obnoxious benches on the downtown sidewalks. With much blathering, the present Hillsborough Town Board built much-needed sidewalks in northern Fairview and Nash Street and called it “Walkable Hillsborough.” However, the walk didn’t include the downtown area where this monstrosity exists. This is a oxymoron approach to sidewalk safety in Hillsborough.During my 22 years as a public servant, 10 years on the Hillsborough Town Board and 12 years as mayor, we passed a Comprehensive Vision 2010 Plan for planned growth and public safety. Those who served on the Town Board and Planning Board did not attempt to placate special interests or engage in snobbery.A history of Hillsborough’s local laws that were removed: (a) spitting on the sidewalk; (b) putting orange peeling on the sidewalk; (c) no animals on the sidewalk, and (d) the most despicable local ordinance that was enacted during the civil rights struggle was that no more than three people could be on the sidewalk at one time. They could be jailed (Many were in 1969.) This local ordinance prompted me to get involved with the fight for justice, equality and sidewalk safety.In 1977 my area was annexed into Hillsborough and in November, I was elected to the Town Board. The town received a Federal CDBG Grant in 1978 to rehabilitate homes and to make the streets in West Hillsborough safe. The town didn’t have a manager and the board appointed me as the person to hire staff and appoint a Citizen Advisory Committee to ensure that all of the homes and streets were repaired and made safe. Later the town and Orange County commissioners collaborated to get a CDBG federal grant to rehabilitate homes, install water and sewer lines, pave streets and build a park in northern Fairview. Evelyn Lloyd, Hardin Fuller, Frances Jones, Nathaniel Wells, Caleb U. Moore and I served on the task force. Moore was elected to serve as chairman of the task force.The town worked with DOT to get truck traffic off the main street to make the street safe. Orange County removed the loose slate around the old court house and replaced it with a cement base to make the sidewalk safe. Public safety must be paramount on the town’s sidewalks. Visitors from around the world come to visit one of the America’s crown jewels of democracy – Hillsborough. The operator of the establishment where these horrible benches are located have a legal right to serve people inside his business; however, he does not have the right to make the sidewalk hazardous for citizens and those who are handicapped to safely walk around town. When someone falls and gets hurt, does the town get sued or does the establishment get sued?Some town citizens allege that they don’t feel safe at night downtown. They also allege that some of those who frequent the area border on lewd licentiousness and debauchery.The sidewalks and streets in downtown Hillsborough are hallowed ground. This is the area where the Regulators walked. They were hanged because of their beliefs. These sidewalks must not be desecrated with these atrocious asinine benches. Many of Hillsborough’s residents played an important part in the formation and creation of American history. Those benches are an affront and degradation to their memories. If Hillsborough’s Town Board enacted a local law allowing this farce to take place on the town’s sidewalks, it must have the courage to rescind such an absurd ordinance. The outrageous benches are nonconforming. A simple solution would be to use two tables with four chairs, which will seat the same number of people. With this change of seating on the sidewalk, a possible challenge of the violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act can be avoided.Those ugly profane benches destroy not only the town’s character, but also its authentic historic look. You will not see any vile benches in Williamsburg, Va., or Gettysburg, Penn., on their sidewalks.
Horace H. Johnson is a former mayor of Hillsborough.