New sidewalk policy allows creative control

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 6, 2004

A policy providing guidance to downtown merchants on the use of public sidewalks on Main Street in Columbiana has been softened through an amendment by Mayor Allan Lowe leaving the use of color and other aesthetics up to individual businesses.

A letter regarding the amended policy was expected to be in the hands of merchants before presstime Tuesday.

An original policy governing the use of public sidewalks in the business area of Main Street Columbiana, written by Lowe, included such detail as to limit the maximum number of colors to three for items displayed.

&uot;At no time will any displayed item show rust, rot or similar evidence of deterioration,&uot; the original policy stated.

Since that policy was distributed last week,

Lowe has re-written it, leaving what he called &uot;aesthetics&uot; up to merchants.

He said the reason behind a sidewalk use policy was, &uot;First and foremost, I have a duty to make sure that pedestrians and shoppers and residents have a safe place to walk.

&uot;In my original policy, I focused on both safety and appearance. And the more I thought of it, appearance should be left up to the businesses, because if a display is not attractive or in poor taste, the shoppers will make more of a statement to the business owner than I ever could by not shopping there.&uot;

Lowe pointed out that he had asked business owners in attendance at a Merchants and Professionals Association meeting if they would like to handle the situation (policy of the walkability of downtown sidewalks) themselves or if the merchants would like for the city to create policy to keep sidewalks safe and attractive.

&uot;The overwhelming response was the city should establish a policy. And so, I did just that,&uot; he said.

Since that original version of the policy was issued by Lowe, however, he said, &uot;I’ve chosen to re-focus my guidance on safety.

&uot;Now that we have sidewalks that we’re very proud of, we want to make sure they’re maintained and offer shoppers and pedestrians a safe and attractive way to enjoy downtown,&uot; Lowe said.

In his hand-delivered letter regarding the policy amendment, Lowe wrote, &uot;Of the several merchants with whom I have spoken, most have overwhelmingly supported the policy and feel that it provides a clear guideline to everyone as to what can be placed on, and above, our sidewalks.

&uot;My hopes are that this guidance would prevent any businessowner from unintentionally becoming the defendant in a ‘trip-and-fall’ or similar type lawsuit, when the businessowner wanted only to make his or her storefront more appealing.

&uot;I also hope that this policy gives any businessowner sufficient notice of what is allowed on our sidewalks before he or she spends hard-earned money to purchase an item, or items, that the city would have to prohibit from being displayed on the sidewalks.

Lowe said he designed the amended policy with comments and concerns in mind from residents and businessowners alike.

&uot;The only area where I did not get input from anyone was that of aesthetics, or appearance. For that reason, I will remove some requirements from the policy. Namely, the requirements pertaining to a maximum of different colors to be displayed has been removed,&uot; Lowe said.

&uot;Also, the requirement that addresses ‘rust, rot or similar evidence of deterioration’ has been removed. By doing this, I return the responsibility for displays of good taste where the responsibility needs to be – in the hands of the businessowner.

&uot;I will make sure that all merchants and professionals get a copy of the revised policy very soon. It will reflect the changes I have discussed in this letter.

&uot;Sidewalks are more than just protected paths to get shoppers and pedestrians from one point to another. They are also opportunities for fellowship and to pass the time of day with friends, old and new. Attractive sidewalks also allow passers-by to window shop,&uot; he said, indicating storefront displays should ‘tease’ the window shopper with a sampling of that business’s selection.

Sidewalks weren’t designed to be an extension of a business’s floor space, he said.

&uot;For safety concerns, I must ensure that we all adhere to that philosophy,&uot; Lowe said.