Pressure grows to change town rules on sidewalk displays

STRASBURG – A few business owners want the town to let them use more sidewalk space for displays.

The pressure from proprietors to change the rules pertaining to such displays continues to grow. Now the Planning Commission is expected to talk about the topic, potentially starting the process by which the town could change the ordinance. Any change to the regulations contained in the Unified Development Ordinance requires that the town first hold a public hearing. The panel meets at 7 p.m. today and plans to at least discuss the concerns of the property owners.

The town limits proprietors from using more than 50 percent of the sidewalk space in front of their businesses for displays.

Town Council adopted the Unified Development Ordinance in July 2014 after months of work by officials, elected leaders and a consultant. The document combines and updates the zoning and subdivision ordinances.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Wyatt Pearson said Monday that a couple of business owners oppose the 50-percent limitation.

“They feel they should be allowed 100 percent of the front of their building,” Pearson said. “Their argument is that they pay 100 percent of taxes on the sidewalks and therefore should be able to display across 100 percent of the sidewalk.”

“My position in my professional role is that it’s in the books as an ordinance and it’s something that we do enforce because of that,” Pearson added. “The primary issue is allowing for pedestrians to move along the sidewalks and not hindering their pathway.”

The ordinance states that the outdoor display shall not reduce pedestrian passage on the sidewalk to less than 4 feet to the nearest street trees, utility poles and other structures or devices. The amount of space dedicated to merchandise display shall not exceed 50 percent of the width of the property frontage adjacent to the sidewalk. Any outdoor display of merchandise on a public sidewalk shall permit free access to all buildings and parking areas and comply with access requirements imposed by the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code or the Americans with Disabilities Act as the same exists or is hereafter amended.

Town Council’s Ordinance Committee discussed the topic late last month and decided to forward it to the Planning Commission and along the correct procedural path, Pearson said. The commission makes recommendations to council pertaining to changes to the ordinance.

The town has not received any applications that would seek changes to the ordinance. Rather, the commission will likely hear concerns informally from residents and business owners about the ordinance. The Planning Commission or Town Council can also put forth a proposed change to the ordinance, Pearson said.

Councilman Richard Orndorff Jr. said at the Ordinance Committee that he felt the rule was unfair because, while the town limits the use to 50 percent, owners pay for 100 percent of the cost to build and clean the sidewalk. However, Councilman Seth Newman said some people have voiced concerns that King Street is cluttered.

Business owner Debbie Pitcock has indicated that she would like to use 100 percent of the sidewalk in front of her store. Pitcock told the committee that she did an experiment in which she followed the ordinance some days and exceeded the display limitation on others. Pitcock said she lost money each day she followed the rule. Another shop owner, David Lassiter, complained to the committee that items on display on the sidewalks helps sell the town. Lassiter said a large portion of his sales come from the sidewalk.

Some council members have pointed out that the ordinance is intended to keep the sidewalks safe for foot travel.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or