Committee, police chief discuss downtown Athol

Police Chief Craig Lundgren speaks with Downtown Vitality Committee Chair Mary Holtorf about some of the concerns raised regarding the downtown area.

Police Chief Craig Lundgren speaks with Downtown Vitality Committee Chair Mary Holtorf about some of the concerns raised regarding the downtown area. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 10-12-2023 4:00 PM

ATHOL – While the downtown area has proven crime-free, Police Chief Craig Lundgren and the Downtown Vitality Committee identified some concerns to keep an eye on.

The chief said there had only been two relatively serious incidents in downtown in recent months—an assault near the downtown parking garage and the arrest of someone on outstanding felony warrants.

“Those are the only two things. There have been no robberies, no break-ins,” Lundgren said at the committee’s Tuesday meeting. “There have been no broken windows. Nothing. I do think that Main Street is relatively safe.”

Committee members brought up concerns raised in the past, such as at the Maroni Building.

“Out back there there’s somebody who’s set up camp in the little ‘cubby hole’ again, and there’s a group of guys who are hanging around under the parking deck,” said committee Chair Mary Holtorf. “Now, they may not be a problem, but it makes me uneasy.”

Committee member Diane DiPietro said there are several groups that have been seen in the area, one of which has been reported to buy alcohol and offer it to children that walk by.

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“I have seen the police come by,” DiPietro said. “There’s a group of kids that hang out and they seem to be okay. Then there’s a group of guys that are a little scary. They look to be in their early to mid-20s – I don’t get up close.”

Lundgren said meetings like this one were a good idea, as they made officials aware of these potential issues. He said every shift is supposed to be checking out the Maroni Building and this discussion showed him what to be aware of.

Holtorf said another persistent problem is cyclists – mainly youngsters – riding on the sidewalks downtown. There is no signage to deter this.

“But it’s something to pay attention to, because if somebody steps out the door of a business they could be hurt,” Holtorf said. “I don’t know what we can do about that, but the kids on their bikes are definitely a problem.”

The issue of bicycles on the sidewalks is problematic, most committee members agreed, in part because vehicles park on both sides of Main Street and there is no dedicated bike lane. Lundgren said there are no statistics kept regarding relative to pedestrians being hit and injured by bicyclists, but Holtorf said she has seen a lot of close calls. The chief also said any signs posted to address the issue need explicitly ban bikes from the sidewalk.

“Signs like ‘please walk your bikes,’ those signs never work,” said the chief. “It has to be prohibited from the sidewalk – bicycles, scooters, skateboards.”

Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith said the town is trying to develop an alternative route for cyclists to navigate the downtown area.

“My goal is not to go back to 50 years ago when an officer had to be stationed downtown to walk up and down all day,” Lundgren said. “Times have changed. Invite me back for the next meeting. I’m going to see if I can’t put out a directive that, every shift, (an officer) will park for 30 minutes and walk Main Street – just to see if that helps at all.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.