Time to say so-long to sidewalk sales?
Panel backs limits on outdoor display of merchandise
Mums and tomatoes for sale outside the doors at Grasch Foods are fine.
Clothing racks rolled onto the sidewalk for a sale at your favorite city of Brookfield boutique are not.
That would be the practical effect of an ordinance the Plan Commission on Monday recommended for Common Council approval. It codifies the right of grocery stores and produce stands to do business outdoors, while forbidding all other businesses in the B2 and B3 zoning districts from doing the same - with the exception of bank drive-thrus and car dealerships, and city-approved tent sales.
Most commercial areas in the city fall under B2 and B3 zoning, including Bluemound Road and Capitol Drive, said Dan Ertl, director of community development.
But then, some non-grocery businesses do have outdoor displays that look good and build business. For instance, the kayaks hanging outside REI look pretty good, commissioners said. They fit right in with the rustic building and almost become part of the decor.
And that's why the commissioners, while backing the ordinance, asked city staff to brainstorm a possible second ordinance that would make semi-permanent outdoor displays done in a tasteful, professional, planned manner allowable at other businesses.
It won't be easy to define the criteria that lead to "tasteful," they said. The overall goal is to prevent retailers from pushing merchandise outdoors in a haphazard way or displaying their less-aesthetically pleasing items outside for a day.
"What you usually see is the clearance stuff, not the quality items," said Larry Goudy, Brookfield's zoning and building administrator. "But done professionally, semi-permanent or permanent displays can be quite attractive."
Worried about competitiveness
Grocery stores have displayed seasonal items, like mums, outdoors for 20 or more years.
It wasn't a problem, because the city had no ordinance requiring business to be done inside the building, and, frankly, there weren't any complaints.
The ordinance the panel recommended Monday simply allows that practice to continue as it always has, Goudy said.
But there have been complaints about other outdoor displays, such as at one business that pushed several lawnmowers outside for display.
Tim Casey, economic development coordinator, warned against over-regulating.
"The city chose to control development on Capitol Drive to prevent it becoming another Bluemound Road, and now we have one of our worst vacancy problems there," Casey said.
"Retailers want to animate themselves at the street level, say: 'Here we are, here's my product. Why don't you come on in and see more of it.' "
And that's exactly why Alderman Rick Owen said he supports continued research into how to allow outdoor displays while maintaining the ability to mandate quality.
"You put our businesses at a disadvantage when you say, 'You can't do it,' " Owen said. "This is something to pursue to keep our businesses competitive, and we want to encourage our businesses to do it well."
Responding to change
Casey said the continued look into outdoor displays is a measure in line with others recently taken by the city to become more retail friendly.
He pointed to a recent change that allows up to four tenant names on a center's main sign instead of two, recent support for allowing companies more flexibility in reflecting their brand in their building's design and a decision made earlier on Monday to allow electronic signs.
WHAT: final approval of ordinance limiting outdoor displays in B2 and B3 zoning districts to grocery stores and produce stands
WHO: Common Council
WHEN: 7:45 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 2000 N. Calhoun Road
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