Changes to Mount Airy’s zoning ordinance aimed at better regulating mobile food vendors, seasonal businesses and similar operations have been approved.
However, one commissioner voted in opposition to the measure over concerns regarding yard sales.
“It seems rather ridiculous to me,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said during a meeting of the city council Thursday night when the action was taken in a 3-1 vote (with board member Steve Yokeley absent). “We ought to let this ride.”
Cawley unleashed his comments in reaction to one section of the ordinance changes which specifies the number and duration of yard sales that may be conducted at a particular location. Initially, the zoning ordinance revision package stated that someone could have two yard sales lasting two days each, for a maximum four days per year.
But after a council meeting last month which included a public hearing on the proposed changes, Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said she favored allowing three-day yard sales for a nine-day total. This addressed the fact that some people prefer to hold those events from Thursday to Saturday.
Cawley expressed some concern Thursday night about the overall need for the revisions, which generally are aimed at making it easier for businesses such as seasonal refreshment stands and mobile food vendors to operate in the city limits.
However, his main issue surrounded how officials would make sure everyone plays by the rules on yard sales. Cawley hammered that point after Emily Hines, a city planner who presented the changes Thursday night, said no one in her office works on Saturdays when most violations might occur.
“I guess it depends on how hard you want us to work on it,” Hines said of the special effort that would be required to oversee weekend yard sales.
The apparent lack of enforcement did not sit well with Cawley.
“If we’re going to change things under my watch, I want it to be enforced,” he said.
“If you’re not going to make them do it,” Cawley added of having yard-sale operators meet the requirements, “don’t say you are.”
The commissioner said he didn’t want to add to the burden of city police by having them enforce yard-sale rules, but indicated that it would be pointless to not ensure they were obeyed. “If we don’t enforce them, then we’re going to look stupid.”
Hines explained later that enforcement of city ordinances tends to be “complaint-driven.” While codes enforcement personnel might not be able to blanket every city neighborhood each weekend, if a complaint is received they can focus on the specific offender.
“This at least gives us the teeth…to enforce it,” she said of the ordinance requirements.
Commissioner Cawley also questioned Thursday night the necessity of some of the new regulations — including those for yard sales.
Given the state of the economy, “it might help somebody to have a yard sale every two months,” he said, which would exceed the nine-day limit.
Cawley also referred to the fact that a situation with a seasonal business, Bahama Shaved Ice — which operates in the warmer months at a site near the entrance of Forrest Oaks Shopping Center — had triggered the ordinance revisions.
Marcelle Jones, who has operated that business for about 10 years, had questioned a longstanding provision that required her to renew a temporary-use zoning permit every seven days. The new rules have made that 180 days.
Cawley said it shouldn’t have required such a major undertaking to accommodate Bahama Shaved Ice, which employs about five teens and a couple of adults.
Jones, he said, “ought to be able to buy a business license and be done with it.”
After the issue first arose with Bahama Shaved Ice, planning officials reviewed the overall zoning ordinance and found it to be overly restrictive regarding temporary uses of sites by vendors.
“I guess I opened up a can of worms,” Jones said during last month’s public hearing.
In addition to yard sales, the revised guidelines affect other temporary-use situations such as fireworks stands, food trucks or push carts, sidewalk vendors and sales of agricultural products, including setting time limitations for their operations.
Vendors must meet certain conditions in order to obtain permits to operate at various locations, excluding vacant lots. Also, street vending units must be at least 100 feet from the main entrance to any restaurant.
Those receiving permits must supply detailed information about their businesses and obtain a health permit, if applicable, along with keeping sites free of trash and fulfilling other requirements.
Additional guidelines refer to the use and location of temporary buildings, such as tents hosting religious services.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.