Friday, September 30, 2005

"You used to have a lot of old men come down to congregate"

"How's our Bewitched statue doing?" you ask fhb. "It's been a while since you blogged anything about it, Fred."

And that's because Sam seems to be settling in just fine. But controversy still swirls in the town of Salem, this time over park benches. Following replicated from the Salem News Online, as the paper does not archive their articles, and it will soon disappear into cyberspace....

Set a spell, but only a short one, in Lappin Park

By Tom Dalton
Staff writer

SALEM - The city unveiled a "Bewitched" statue in Lappin Park this summer to attract more people to the downtown. Now it wants to install park benches with no backs to make sure they - or, at least, the wrong people - don't stay too long.

At the urging of the Police Department, the city has requested a change in the design for Lappin Park, which called for five standard city benches in the small park at the corner of Washington and Essex streets.

The park has been a center of attention since June, when the cable channel TV Land erected a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery, the late star of "Bewitched," the 1960s TV series about a suburban witch. TV Land also is paying to have the park redone, a landscaping project that includes the benches.

The city still wants benches but without backs and with different seats that will discourage children from skateboarding, youths from hanging out and the homeless from sleeping on them - three problems that have plagued the park for years, officials said.

"We're always getting calls over there because of different problems," Lt. Conrad Prosniewski said. "Our guys can do a lot better things than sitting in the square and having to patrol" the park.

Police were glad to see the sitting wall come down in the old park and don't want to see the problems return with the benches, he said.

"You can put nice benches there," Prosniewski said. "You just don't have to put benches people are going to camp out in 24 hours a day."

Kate Sullivan, chief of staff to Mayor Stanley Usovicz, went before the Salem Redevelopment Authority last week to get approval to change the benches and add more lighting.

Downtown merchants complain about the element drawn to the area, she said, and say visitors are intimidated.

Installing different benches is not the solution to the problem, Sullivan said, but it addresses one of the issues and should help create a better environment.

"If we can encourage positive park use immediately while we're trying to solve the problems of homelessness or jobs for kids, what's wrong with that?" she asked.

Not everyone agrees that backless benches are the answer.

"You used to have a lot of old men come down to congregate," said Matthew Michetti, 37, of Salem, who was sitting on a standard city bench yesterday along Washington Street. "I don't see any problem with them sitting there for a few hours. If they do, they should be able to lean back."

The matter was referred to the SRA's design review board.

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