Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jesus Saved Me From Cigarettes: and other curiosities from Noblesville's streets and waterways

Pimp My Rental
Leaving the Community Bank drive-thru on Saturday the 13th of June, I was interested to see a large crew of people scraping, painting, and landscaping 220 N. 10th St. According to an article in The Times two days later, the people were volunteers for Keep Noblesville Beautiful (KNB), and members of the Hamilton County Probation Department as well as those working off community service mandated by County Courts. They had gathered to improve homes in need of upkeep.

According to a source inside KBN, they did the work on behalf of a tenant at 220 N. 10 who asked for help fixing up the property. What KNB didn’t know that Saturday, and what wasn’t mentioned in The Times story was that the property they were improving is owned by Steve Holt, a County Commissioner, local attorney, and real estate investor who owns many investment properties throughout the county.

“Kids, get the hell outta the way!”
Local resident and DJ for 97.1 Hank FM, Ernie Mills, took this photograph on a recent weekend at Potter’s Bridge. Kids were floating on inner tubes in the river while others strolled the walking trails or fished from the river bank when fishermen in boats with oversized motors came roaring through with no apparent care.

One can only hope that the hidden boulders and floating logs of White River thin out that portion of the herd.

“Jesus Saved Me From Cigarettes”
That’s what the man’s sign said. He was sitting on a park bench on Logan Street in the shadow of the Courthouse last Friday, noontime, holding up his sign. I was so intrigued I parked the car and asked him his story.

His name was Larry Adams. Sitting in the sweltering heat Larry told me that in 1980, after he was saved, he asked Jesus for help kicking his smoking habit. In a prayer, he asked Jesus to give him a headache every time he lit up a cigarette. His prayer was answered. Headaches came each time he weakened and tried to take a puff.

In a later prayer, Larry asked Jesus to give him a headache whenever he drank beer. Larry no longer drinks or smokes cigarettes. He told me he just wanted to come to the courthouse square to share his experience with others.

Can’t See The Forest For The Trees
New ordinances being imposed on downtown Noblesville are guaranteed to make it less attractive to merchants and shoppers alike.

Merchants have been told they cannot put out sandwich board signs without a permit. The permit application requires a $100 fee and if granted, merchants must purchase $1 million in liability insurance. This is puzzling when you consider the most dangerous trip hazard currently on the sidewalks downtown are not sandwich boards, but the scores of flag poles.

In my ample time sitting out at Nobles Coffee & Tea, The Marketplace, and Matteo’s, I’ve not seen anyone endangered by sandwich board signs, but I’ve seen plenty of baby stroller wheels locked up by the flag polls and plenty of pedestrians with flags wrapped around their faces on a windy day. Is there $1 million in liability coverage for each flag?

And restaurants were recently notified that outdoor seating must leave a 40” open space between the seating and the star brick path

This is built upon the mystifying belief that the star brick strip is not a safe walking surface, so what’s left must provide a “treadable” space for pedestrians and wheelchairs. Which again is puzzling, because the variation in star brick surface appears to be less than the dimpled panels the City recently installed in sidewalk ramps – for the sake of safety.

I measured the “treadable” space along outdoor seating at one of Noblesville’s most popular downtown restaurants. As people sat and scooted out their chairs, the “treadable” space quickly shrunk to 16”. While I spoke with the patrons we set the tape measure for 40” and tried to imagine how the restaurant could comply. It could only be done by reducing their already meager seating by two thirds.

I asked a City Planning Department representative what they would do when seating shrunk the “treadable” space narrower than 40”. I was told it’s a violation that if repeated enough, would result in the establishment’s “encroachment permit,” being revoked. In other words, no more outdoor seating for that business.

But consider this. The distance between a city bench on the south side of Conner Street and the star bricks provides an ample 40” “treadable” space. Yet the moment you sit down, your feet reduce the “treadable” space to 30’-35’. But there’s no accounting for that in the new ordinance. I asked the same Planning Department official about the City’s violations and was told there were no provisions to address violations caused by the City. So if a restaurant violates the ordinance, they will be sited and stand to lose their right to outdoor seating. Do this on City seating and it’s okay.

On the east side of 8th Street, the City’s benches, flowerpots and trash cans leave only 15” of “treadable” space. Perhaps merchants should sue the City to force them to comply at the same rate they expect of merchants.

All this bureaucratic silliness doesn’t just encourage merchants to leave downtown, it also scares off shoppers. Why? Because the city has also banned bicycles from downtown sidewalks.

Having raised children in Old Town among other families raising children in Old Town, I assure you that if this ordinance is enforced, children on bicycles are essentially banned from downtown because parents know the streets are too dangerous.

All this effort to address minor fringe issues is puzzling, because there’s no plan for addressing downtown’s #1 safety issue: motorists who chase pedestrians and bicycles out of crosswalks.

How could such a supposedly conservative group of leaders produce so much illogical, nit-picking, bureaucratic, red tape aimed at ham-stringing small business people?

Vibrant city centers I have visited in America and abroad are organic, imperfect, funky places. Those that are heavily regulated tend to be sterile governmental and banking centers that die everyday at 5:00 when the bankers and bureaucrats go home. Noblesville’s leaders are apparently satisfied with the latter.

[Perhaps this all could have been avoided by simply banning the sales of antique military paraphernalia downtown.]

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