Outdoor displays would be allowed, if council agrees with new standards
By Linda Harmon
Outdoor business displays are effective ways for merchants to invite potential customers into their shops and are one step closer to being easier to set up in the city of Ojai.
Shortly after voting in Susan Weaver as 2009 chair at Wednesday’s meeting, the Ojai Planning Commission approved proposed general standards for outdoor merchandise displays drawn up by a committee of merchants and city representatives.
Such displays have historically been prohibited in the city, but when recently adopted sign regulations amended language in the regulations that would allow for outdoor displays, a need for specified standards came up. The Planning Commission requested last autumn that a merchant-based plan be brought back to them.
Merchants can obtain conditional use permits for certain outdoor displays that adhere to city regulations regarding dimensions that allow for walkway clearance, but city planner Katrina Rice Schmidt reported that the committee examined a number of potential problems with the looser standards. “The merchants wanted some displays to be out ‘by right’ because they didn’t want to come to the office every time they wanted to put out a display, but they also saw that it could get out of hand,” said Schmidt.
The main focus of the group was the Arcade area of the city because of the access limitations that exist on public property. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires 28-inch clearances along public walkways, plus legal concerns dictate that exterior merchandise cannot be hazardous to passersby.
The proposed standards for displays continue to require a CUP for some exterior exhibits, but also include a flat fee for outdoor displays that coincide with dimensional standards. “Assuming merchants subscribe to the standards, they would not have to come to the planning desk each time,” said Schmidt.
Aesthetic appeal was important to the committee, as well, and restrictions of things like cardboard boxes were included in the proposal in order to make for more visually appealing exhibitions. “It’s not to extend sales space, but to pique interest so people know what’s inside,” said Schmidt.
A third tier in the proposed standards is that of code enforcement and education. “A recurring theme of discussion of the committee was to strongly enforce the existing and proposed regulations to ensure that Ojai remains a clean and friendly place to live and visit,” reads the proposal. “Concern was expressed by the committee that violations of the standards can result in goods being displayed in a manner that is counter to the goals of the city.”
Commissioner Tucker Adams wanted to hear more about this area of the proposal. “Would there be an effort of the group to actively inform the merchants about the standards?” she asked. Schmidt replied that, with adoption, the city would develop a brochure with the standards and visit merchants to educate them about the options.
“It may be that the lion’s share would fit into the standards, but that some may come later that you would need to adjust,” said city manager Jere Kersnar.
“The committee asked that the commission make code enforcement a higher priority, if not for the long term, at least for the beginning efforts,” Schmidt said.
“The implication of the requirement is there be dedicated staff to stay on top of violations and follow up,” said Kersnar, reminding the commissioners that the city’s code enforcement staff is also its building inspector, the latter taking priority. “Right now we don’t have the capability to stay on top of violations, at least not consistently.”
“The committee was fantastic and the documents Katrina put together were great,” said freshly appointed Vice Chair Troy Becker, who served on the committee. “We felt like we needed to narrow it down and those that fell out were kind of long-term displays that needed a CUP.”
In continued discussion, the commission expected that some adjustments would be needed as the standards were put to use. “It’s hard to do something new because you have to test drive it,” said Commissioner Paul Crabtree.
The proposed standards as approved by the Planning Commission will go before the City Council in the near future.