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Ruling Bel Air's Main Street sidewalks

Walk along either side of Main Street in downtown Bel Air on a sunny summer afternoon, and you'll see walkers and bicycle riders making their way past planters, benches, sandwich board signs, flags, banners and outdoor cafe tables and chairs placed on the sidewalks.

It's an array of decor that helps promote the downtown businesses and allows visitors to the Harford County seat's main drag to relax and take in the activity, but it's also decor that must conform to a variety of Town of Bel Air regulations, depending on the item, to ensure pedestrians and drivers are not affected.

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Main Street is part of Route 924, a state-maintained highway, and the sidewalks are part of the State Highway Administration's right of way.

"They don't permit signs that are not associated with traffic control in their right of way and neither does the town," Bel Air Planning Director Kevin Small said Tuesday.

Business owners can obtain town permits to put out sandwich board signs, which can be seen in front of a number of businesses.

"There are a lot of sandwich board signs that you'll see out along Main Street," Small said.

Sandy Demczak, owner of Hair Design LLC at 122 N. Main St., has a sandwich board sign placed on the sidewalk welcoming walk-in clients.

"I've never had any problems on this end of town," she said Monday. "I haven't had any issues with anything."

Demczak has been at her location for 15 years and in business downtown for 35 years,

"I used to have flags, but I kind of felt like they would hang on people as they were walking by," she said.

Demczak noted the sidewalk is wider along her part of Main Street, compared to the south end of Main Street, giving her plenty of room for the sign.

"I think my saving grace is, I have a wide sidewalk," she joked.

On the opposite end of the downtown drag, one can see sidewalk tables and chairs outside the Sunny Day Cafe and the Little NY Deli in the 100 block of South Main, just south of the Harford County Sheriff's Office headquarters.

There is space between the tables and chairs and the storefronts of the restaurants.

The owner of the Sunny Day Cafe, who only gave her first name, Laurie, said the previous owners of the restaurant had the sidewalk cafe, "so we just continued what they were doing."

"There's plenty of room for people to walk, so there's never been any issue," Laurie, who has operated the eatery for about a year and a half, said.

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Main Street rules

Small outlined the rules for placing signs, banners, flags and tables along the Main Street

The state's right of way extends across Main Street between the fronts of the buildings on both sides, Small said.

Any business owner who wants to put signs along the sidewalk must obtain a permit from the town.

Sandwich board signs can be placed on the sidewalk in front of a business for a $25 one-time fee; one sign is allowed per storefront.

As an example, Small said the Main Street Tower can have two signs because the building for the restaurant and lounge includes frontage along Main and the alley to the rear of the building; he noted town officials have been flexible toward putting both signs along Main Street.

Small said the sandwich signs must be taken in at night, and since they are not on the sidewalk day and night, the business owner only has to pay the one-time fee, and "it's not considered a permanent sign in the right of way."

"You're basically permitted as long as your business is there," he said.

They also should not be placed in a manner that it does not block a driver's view of other vehicles or pedestrians.

Business owners must get a new permit each time they want to put up a temporary banner or wind sail sign, which resembles the sail a windsurfer would attach to his or her board.

Those banners can only be up for the duration of the time they are being used to promote an event or sale, and they cannot be on the sidewalk; they can only be attached to the business property, Small explained.

"It all depends on the nature of what you're advertising," he said.

Small said town officials prefer that business owners attach flags to their property, but exceptions have been made for flags placed on poles on the sidewalk.

Regarding tables and chairs, they must be set up in a way that does not block foot traffic, and the restaurant owners typically bring them inside, or stack them against the front wall when they close.

"You have to make sure you have an area to pass through when people are walking on the sidewalk," Small said.

Ideal for walking, bike riding

Pedestrians could be seen walking along Main Street Monday afternoon, checking out the shops and restaurants, or talking on their mobile phones.

Kara Dager, of Bel Air, said she walks up and down Main about once a week.

"I've never had an issue with any of the signs in the street or benches," she said.

Heather Ditman, of Abingdon, who works on Main Street, said the sandwich board signs do not bother her, either.

"I think they're good for the businesses," she said.

Ditman added: "I always look at the signs as I'm going by, to see the different specials of the businesses."

There is even enough space on the sidewalk to accommodate bike riders.

"It's open, nice scenery, cool shops," said Mark Wollenweber, 19, of Fallston.

Wollenweber and his friends, Jacob Karrenbauer, 19, and Brandon Riley, 17, both of Fallston, were riding their bikes along Main Street Monday afternoon.

They spoke to a reporter outside the StaleFish Board Co. at 100 N. Main St., where they parked their bikes.

Karrenbauer said he and his friends can maneuver around the signs and other objects placed on the sidewalk.

"It's not like it's going to be, when you turn a corner you're going to hit something," he explained.

Brandon also praised Main Street as a riding location.

"Everything's close by," he said. "Food is nearby, nothing's too far away, it's a smooth ride, good scenery too."

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