2009-05-16 / Top News

More Changes Coming to Island City Ordinances

By Karen Gould

Putting two ordinances under the microscope of the Ordinance Committee and questioning of a third ordinance amendment by an Island business owner brought a halt to an expected recommendation that City Council adopt the regulations Wednesday, May 6. Under consideration were amendments to the Distribution of Printed Materials Ordinance, Blight Ordinance, and Sign and Display of Merchandise Ordinance.

A light note to the deliberations came when Mayor Margaret Doud entered the committee meeting with laryngitis and was greeted by committee members wearing medical masks.

Distribution of Printed Materials Ordinance

During an April meeting, the committee sought to reduce loose paper on city streets and agreed to further restrict the distribution of leaflets, handbills, and other printed material.

"This wasn't intended for anyone in particular or any business," said Chair Mike Hart. "This was a protection against potential runaways [horses]. Papers blowing around on the street ought to be discouraged because [it] can scare horses and cause serious damage. For public health and safety, it's a question of doing things that could frighten horses or that could lead to a frightened horse, and we want to discourage it as much as we can."

City Attorney Tom Evashevski noted that the city also is concerned about some of the things are allowed.

"We're being about as lenient, I think, as we can." he said. "The fact that people can pick these things up from some box is going to [be] some level of a problem, but it's allowed right now."

Pat Pulte, owner of the Murray Hotel on Main Street, who attended the meeting, questioned the proposed amendment. Mr. Pulte uses the porch of the hotel to hand menus to those walking past the building on the adjacent sidewalk.

Mr. Hart said there is a difference between asking for or selecting handbills and being confronted on the street with a handbill that the person may not want. The unsolicited material, he opined, "is far more likely to get wadded and tossed without even being glanced at."

"It doesn't take but a shadow to scare a horse," said Mr. Hart, "and a piece of paper blowing through a horse's feet is enough to get him charging right down the road."

The ordinance allows a business to place menus in a wall box for people to pick up. It also allows someone to hold a box of menus, which people could voluntarily take.

Other Main Street businesses staff their entrances with an employee who shows potential customers the menu, which is then returned.

Mr. Pulte said he understands the concern for horses, although he does not believe in a "shotgun" ordinance. If a business is creating a problem, he said, then the police should come and shut it down. If they're coming from the Murray Hotel," said Mr. Pulte. "I should either clean it up or you should close it down."

That approach, said Mr. Evashevski, would be difficult to regulate.

"It would be difficult to enforce that," he said. "To quantify the number of pieces of paper in the street would be impossible to count. I just don't know how you would have an objective standard that you know you have reached that makes it intolerable."

He also noted that once the papers are handed out, Mr. Pulte has no control over them; the material is the responsibility of the visitor.

Alderman Dan Wightman said he would not support the amendment. He recalled language in the ordinance at the last meeting that stipulated handbills could not be handed out 15 feet from the curb. At the May 6 meeting, he said, the ordinance now reads within 15 feet of a public street or sidewalk. He noted the committee had agreed the curb would be the reference point and questioned why the language was changed.

There are places where a person could hand out flyers on the sidewalk and still be 15 feet from the curb, said city zoning officer Dennis Dombroski.

"I just think, for enforcement purposes, it has to be either the street or sidewalk," he said, "because you are trying to keep it out of the sidewalk, off the sidewalk, off the street."

Being careful about the wording of the ordinance, he said, is "trying to close the loopholes for consistent enforcement. The whole idea, whether we're enforcing signs or brochures or density of the window displays, it's to have language that's consistent."

The intent of the ordinance is to keep clear the public right-ofway, said Mr. Hart, and making the restriction 15 feet from the street or sidewalk meets that intent.

Mr. Dombroski said the committee could also consider making the restriction 25 feet from the curb or street edge, which might be even more comprehensive.

Hearing no consensus, Mayor Doud then suggested the committee hold off on its recommendation to council to vote on the ordinance, and that committee members walk around the downtown area to see what language and measurement would work best.

Blight Ordinance Amendment

Ten years have passed since a couple received their first building permit to construct a home in the Annex on the West Bluff. Construction has never progressed beyond the foundation, and the city now is suing the couple over the unfinished home. To avoid a similar situation from cropping up in the future, the committee is amending the ordinance and placing a time limit on building permits.

A new situation has just developed that is not covered in the ordinance or the amendment, said Mr. Dombroski. A lot owner wants to stockpile construction material, including cement blocks, on his property before he has been approved for a building permit.

The ordinance does not restrict the practice, which the committee agreed could create a situation similar to the Annex property. Committee members agreed additional language is needed in the ordinance. Mr. Evashevski was asked to include a clause that would require a building permit before construction material could be delivered to any Island property.

The committee agreed a building permit would remain effective for one year to accommodate the Island's short construction season, even though the state has a six-month limit on its permits.

Sign and Display of Merchandise Ordinance

For the sign regulation, the committee removed the requirement that a commercial sign has to be affixed to a building. The commercial sign, however, has to be on the premises where the business is conducted. Mr. Evashevski said he would like to review the ordinance one more time before it is sent to the city council.

The committee continues its work on establishing an adult entertainment business ordinance and is reviewing neighboring Emmet County's regulation. The next committee meeting was not scheduled, although the Ordinance Committee is expected to meet before the next council meeting, which is Wednesday, May 20, at 5 p.m.

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