SHIRLEY -- Selectmen a couple of weeks ago discussed the problem of loitering versus relaxing on park benches beside Net Variety Store on Main Street. The distinction hinges on whether people using the benches are doing so appropriately or abusing the privilege.
Rather than remove the benches, installed about 20 years ago with a $20,000 grant from Verizon, the board asked the police to vigorously "police the area," which had become an eyesore due to litter and a public nuisance due to people who used the benches to sit and drink alcoholic beverages and who became boisterous and bothersome in the process.
At Monday night's meeting, Police Chief Gregory Massak said that past and present company officials he'd talked to basically left resolution of the bench issue up to the town.
"They no longer have the budget" to maintain the area or pick up trash, he said.
The good news is that the selectmen's solution seems to be working.
The litter problem has been mitigated if not completely solved now that people in the neighborhood realize police patrols have been stepped up in the area, and that police officers will enforce the law prohibiting public drinking, Massak told the board. Massack said he even told some people himself.
The only drawback is that police must actually see someone consuming alcohol to take action in regard to violations of the public-drinking law, Massak said.
The selectmen had received complaints from residents and
But Selectman Andy Deveau was concerned that removing the benches would only relocate the problem to another area.
Massak agreed that was likely. Having spoken to bench sitters and business owners, he said most folks he's seen there lately are enjoying the benches as intended. "It's a nice place to sit and cool off" during the last few hot days, he said.
Certainly, there's no concern if activities there are sober ones, he said. He recommended putting off any decision to remove the benches in favor of the effort to enforce existing laws and educate the public.
Chairman David Swain agreed that if current efforts have the desired effect, the benches should stay.
They are there to "sit and relax, not to imbibe," he said.
"Right now there's no initiative to remove the benches," Deveau added.
The question then becomes whether an open-container bylaw is needed to beef up the message, as retired former Police Chief Enrico Cappuci suggested at a previous meeting.
Doing so would call for Town Meeting approval. The selectmen agreed to consider it after looking at similar bylaws in other communities.