AUGUSTA — City councilors agreed the city should take steps to beautify Western Avenue, including reaching out to businesses to seek their participation in improving landscaping along the pavement- and concrete-heavy roadway, but not commit major new spending to do so.

Some councilors and Mayor David Rollins said they especially want to target businesses and landowners with unused signs and signposts on their properties, to get them to remove unsightly, rusty, unused sign infrastructure from Western Avenue.

Matt Nazar, development director, said some property owners have taken down old unused signs when asked to do so by the city and required by city ordinance, but the owners of Western Avenue properties where a handful of old signs still remain haven’t responded when the city contacted them.

“At this point we haven’t taken anybody to court to make them bring them down, but that may be a step we need to take,” Nazar said. “The ones that are left, we contact owners of the property, and it’s silence. You don’t hear anything back.”

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said the city should take legal action if necessary, including obtaining court orders allowing the city to tear down those signs and then bill the owner for the work.

However, Jeffrey Bilodeau, an at-large councilor, said he didn’t want the city to go that far.

“I’m not looking to get into that realm, that type of mandating, talking about bulldozers coming to tear down people’s property,” he said.

Dale McCormick, an at-large councilor, said the city should at least start with a “kinder, gentler” approach of offering to help businesses remove old signs, but she didn’t rule out taking legal action, either.

Looking into taking steps to improve the appearance of Western Avenue was a goal set by councilors last year. However, this year, councilors did not agree to add improvements to Western Avenue to a list of goals for 2016.

Councilors on Thursday said they did not want to commit to a major investment of city money to make improvements to Western Avenue, but they agreed city workers should continue to do what they can, within their departments’ budgets, to improve Western Avenue, one of the major gateways into the city.

Leif Dahlin, community services director, said workers in the departments he oversees could continue replacing and pruning trees alongside and in the median strip of Western Avenue and doing other work to help maintain and improve the avenue’s appearance within their budget.

He said the city typically has about $14,000 a year budgeted for tree pruning and planting.

Nazar said departments he oversees would continue to seek to work with businesses and through the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce to get them to maintain and improve landscaping on their properties.

That work, he said, will continue to include reviewing the landscape plans filed with the Planning Board when businesses on the avenue received approval for their site plans to ensure what they agreed to do for landscaping actually was done and remains in place.

Nazar said most businesses have complied with the standards they agreed to when they received approval of their landscaping plans. Some who haven’t, he said, have expressed willingness to add plantings in the spring. He noted businesses, under the city’s land use rules, are required to replace plants that die if they were part of landscaping that was part of a site plan approved by the Planning Board when the business first located somewhere.

He said the city works with businesses to help them find plants more likely to survive in difficult roadside environments that include sand and salt from the road.

Last year several city employees formed a team to look at the potential for beautifying Western Avenue, meeting four times and going on a field trip of sorts to take a closer look at the road.

The team’s recommendations to beautify the avenue included seeking $100,000 in capital improvement plan funding to clean, fill cracks in and paint medians on the avenue green.

Councilors said Thursday they couldn’t support that proposal. They said if such a proposal were to be considered, it should be done as part of the budget process, so it could be weighed against other city needs.

City Manager William Bridgeo said Western Avenue, as part of U.S. Route 202, is a state road and, as such, the state owns the median in the middle of it and is generally responsible for it. However, he expressed doubt that the state, which last year ground up old pavement and replaced it with new pavement on part of Western Avenue, would be willing to put money into improving the median.

Conti said it is the state’s responsibility to maintain Western Avenue and it should make investments to help improve its appearance.

“I’m fine (with the city) doing routine maintenance. I’m not against beautifying Western Avenue,” she said, “though I believe it is more the state’s responsibility. It’s a gateway to the state capital. The state should have to pony up money for that. It is stunning to me the legislators who drive there every session don’t care what their constituency sees when they come to the state capital to testify.”

Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said he understood councilors didn’t support making major investments but said the city should do what it could to beautify Western Avenue, as one of the gateways to Augusta.

“I think we should focus on all of our gateways,” he said. “They leave an impression as people come into the city. In a time when we’re talking about property standards and abandoned properties, we should also try to hold a high standard for how we treat our public ways.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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