Hot-button issues were addressed at the first meeting of the Downtown Task Force on Monday. The group is charged with addressing city ordinances affecting downtown businesses. Attendees described the discussion as educational and informative.




"I think everything was handled pretty civilly," said Lin Mattson, owner of Small Change Children's Store on the Plaza.




Mayor John Morrison appointed the task force after merchants raised concerns regarding the sign code, sidewalk right-of-way restrictions and public parking rules that have resulted in violation notices from the city.




The 11-member task force, made up of business owners, planning, public art and housing commissioners and Ashland citizens, along with 25 business owners who attended the meeting, listened to Community Development Director Bill Molnar explain the three ordinances.




Community concerns




Business owners said the city was hurting businesses by taking away creative ways of advertising.




"I think you guys are going to create a ghost town and are hurting the vitality of this town with these ordinances," said Cate Jennings, who owns Earth Friendly Kids near the fire station.




Jennings displayed her products in front of the store before she received a notice from the city two months ago indicating she was in violation of the city's ordinances.




"Now everything's crammed into my store and a lot of people think I'm closed because they don't see the stuff outside anymore," Jennings said. "We're not going to be able to survive. In the 70s, Ashland was a ghost town. Right now we are alive, so please don't kill our ability to do business here."




Renee Compton, a task force member and owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, said she had special concerns for alcove businesses.




"Without the sandwich boards or other displays, no one is going to find or even know about those businesses," she said.




Steve Cole, who owns Sound Peace, also expressed concern for alcove businesses. He pointed out observations he made during a recent trip to Boulder, Colo.




"They have lots of signs (in their downtown area) and it's not out of control," Cole said. "There seems to be some balance there."




Other business owners agreed that they had been to other communities, such as Carmel, Calif., where sidewalk signs were positioned tastefully and suggested the city should look at revising the way its ordinances were written.




The task force agreed that city attorney Richard Appicello would look into how those two communities wrote their sign and right-of-way ordinances.




Susan Powell, who owns Pilaf's, told the task force she was confused about why a person dressed up like the Statue of Liberty and dancing around on the sidewalk wasn't a right-of-way and sign violation.




"Why is that acceptable," she asked. "Just because it's moving?"




The task force didn't answer that question, but city administrator Martha Bennett and Appicello said city staff would draw up ordinance change options for the task force to discuss at its next meeting.




Newspaper boxes




Several task force members joined the audience in asking why newspaper boxes seemed to be immune from the right-of-way ordinance.




"Newspaper boxes seem to be popping up like mushrooms," said Cole.




"Yes, and they're ugly," said Sandra Slattery, a task force member and executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.




The outspoken concern prompted Bennett to direct Appicello to look into ordinances governing the boxes.




Parking




The task force ran out of time before fully addressing the limitations on downtown employees parking in the downtown area.




John Stromberg, task force member and planning commission chair, said he'd like to see the entire ordinance abolished.




Don Anway, general manager of Ashland Springs Hotel, told the task force that the city really needs to address the lack of parking in the downtown area.




Bennett agreed, but said the issue probably wouldn't get solved through task force discussions.




The task force will meet again Monday, July 21.




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