By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Members of the Planning Commission, its staff and business people struggled Wednesday night to find a path toward improving regulation of outdoor signs and storage.
A consensus among the 13 business managers and owners at the meeting emerged in favor of overhauling the current ordinance. But discussion among them and the staff bogged down over reaching the proper tradeoff between concerns over visual appearance and giving businesses a fair opportunity to succeed.
Allen Taylor, a representative from a Southern States store, summarized the mood after an hour.
"I'm happy for the input, but this can get real, real difficult," he said.
Jeremy Camp director of the town's Planning and Zoning Department, opened the meeting with an explanation of problems with the current zoning ordinance and why changes may be needed.
Camp said his staff members have fielded a noticeable number of complaints from citizens, town officials and county officials over the spread of unsightly outdoor displays and stored merchandise.
At the same time, Camp said, the staff has a hard time responding effectively to the complaints because existing regulations are "adversely vague at best and unreasonably restrictive at worst."
"What we would like to take from you is what's best for Front Royal," Camp said.
Several members of the audience warned that a crackdown could cripple their businesses by forcing them to stop carrying certain items such as plants they display outside.
Lee Bowen of Ramsey Hardware said one proposal for forcing display merchandise from outdoors to indoors during certain times of the year would be hard to draft because of the way weather varies from year to year in this area.
For example, he said, the season for selling mulch can span more than half a year while
the time for ice melt is much shorter.
"It's really hard to say," he said.
Several of those in attendance zeroed in on businesses that keep upholstered furniture outdoors as an example of the kind of display that is ripe for more regulation and enforcement.
"Upholstered furniture staying outside for three months with a tarp over it is unsightly," said Winona Henry, co-owner of Rick's Auto Care and Tire Center.
Sonja Carlborg, a member of the Appalachian Trail Community Steering Committee, responded sharply to staff members who warned that the town could be sued repeatedly over a revised ordinance that is improperly worded.
"If you're thinking we could get sued this and we might get sued for that, there may as well not be any rules," she said.