Warren may put limits on displays

WARREN – City Council will discuss legislation limiting the ability of businesses and residents to place signs and displays outside of their businesses.

The legislation will attempt to balance owners’ rights to display their merchandise against not looking like an extended flea market, to project a positive image of the community, proponents say.

If passed by council, businesses no longer would be able to sell, display or advertise within the public right of way.

Exceptions to the proposed requirements would include places that sell automobiles and boats; businesses that sell construction materials, or sell or rent construction equipment or lawnmower equipment; and fruit and vegetable stands. Businesses that display items on the outside but with primary sales conducted inside enclosed buildings may be exempted.

Tim Dotson, owner of Thrift Town Treasures, 2609 Youngstown Road S.E., said that displaying furniture, appliances and other items in the front parking lot of his business is one of the ways people get to see his merchandise.

“It is important to my business,” Dotson said. “The city approached me last year about reducing the number of items. I try to keep what I have towards the building.

“I did what they asked,” he said. “I lost between 50 percent and 70 percent of my business.”

The family-owned and operated business has been on Youngstown Road for about two years. It sells used and hotel liquidation furniture and equipment, as well as antiques..

“If we lose that level of business, we will have to close,” he said. “It seems to me the city would have other things to worry about, like the number of empty buildings and store fronts in this area. That presents a bad image.”

Dotson said what he does is no different than what Home Depot and Lowe’s do outside their stores.

Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th Ward, the ordinance’s sponsor, said the goal is to stop thoroughfares around the city, such as 422, from looking like extended flea markets.

“Our goal is to make the city look more appealing to potential businesses and residences,” he said. “First impressions are very important. There are buildings with older signs and displays that should have been taken down. It does not give a good impression.”

Temporary sales may be allowed by the city, subject to review by the community development director and the issuance of a a temporary outdoor display fee of $25.

Existing businesses that do not conform with the proposed ordinance will be required to conform with the ordinance within an approved time.

Businesses that violate the proposed law may convicted of a misdemeanor, consisting of a fine of no more than $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense within the same year and $500 for each additional violation within the same year’s period.

In drafting this legislation, officials spoke with bordering communities, so it will be a regional approach.

Councilman Vincent Flask, D-5th Ward, emphasized doing this now helps future investment on roads like 422.

“We want what we have cleaned up,” Flask said. “The number of commercial businesses with on-conforming signs, displays of refrigerators, furniture and other items on their sidewalks or in their parking lots has grown over the last year.”

Flask emphasized the idea is not to hurt existing businesses.

“We want to make the city more attractive to attract new customers and encourage new businesses to open,” he said. “I see this as the beginning of an effort to bring new investment.”