Council debates sidewalk display rules

STRASBURG – Town leaders on Monday again heard support for letting business owners use more sidewalk space for displays.

Town Council held a public hearing on proposed changes to the rules in the Unified Development Ordinance pertaining to sidewalk displays. The proposal would, if adopted, increase the space business owners can use from 50 percent of the frontage to 100 percent. The ordinance would limit the height of displays to 5 feet and businesses must leave a path of at least 4 feet wide to adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act space requirements for wheelchairs.

Town officials and council have discussed the topic for months after some business owners argued they needed more space to display their merchandise. Shop owners also argued that limiting the space hinders their efforts to draw customers. The Planning Commission voted Jan. 26 to recommend that council adopt the proposed changes.

Strasburg residents Kim Bishop and Gerard Avvenire spoke during the hearing at the work session before council discussed the proposal. Bishop asked council to approve the recommended changes, reiterating her argument that if shop owners must clean 100 percent of the sidewalk in front of their stores that they should be able to use all the space, not including the 4 feet needed for wheelchairs. Avvenire echoed Bishop but added that enforcement shouldn’t be complaint-driven because that turns people against each other.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Wyatt Pearson told council that business owner Debbie Pitcock gathered signatures for a petition in support of the changes. The petition contained the signatures of 230 people who claimed to live in Strasburg and 187 out-of-town residents. Pitcock also collected signatures of at least one employee from each of 24 businesses on King Street in support. The employees were not speaking on behalf of the business owners, Pearson said.

Councilman Seth Newman said he told Pitcock that he would support changes to the ordinance if she obtained the signatures of a majority of the business owners. Newman said Pitcock had not collected enough signatures of business owners and he would not support the proposal.

Later during the discussion Pitcock said that most of the signatures were from business owners. Some shop owners on other streets also signed the petition, Pitcock said.

“If you guys want businesses besides real estate and law offices, you’re going to have to allow people to put stuff outside,” Pitcock said. “That’s what makes them stop in town; they see stuff on the street and I feel like part of the sidewalk should be for that usage myself.”

Council raised questions about how the ordinance would address hypothetical situations. Pearson said the ordinance would not affect organizations that hold short-term bake sales and other events on the sidewalk. At one point during the discussion Bishop asked why council members were bringing up hypothetical situations that she didn’t feel were germane to the topic.

Town resident Cindy Racey questioned why a councilman would put the burden on a shop owner to collect signatures for a petition. Any member who needs that information should collect it himself or herself, Racey said.

“(Pitcock) has just given up more time than I’ve ever seen to try to get what she thought you wanted and she needs to be credited for that,” Racey said.

Council might take action on the proposed changes at its regular meeting next Tuesday.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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