More talk on using downtown sidewalks

Exactly how much space does a wheelchair need to travel along a sidewalk?

What about a parent pushing a stroller or two people walking side by side?

Marietta City Council’s streets committee and Marietta City Law Director Paul G. Bertram III will attempt to define that measurement as they move forward to simplify some of the past ordinances when it comes to merchants placing merchandise, tables and chairs on city sidewalks.

Bertram reviewed some of the past ordinances governing legal or illegal uses of the city’s sidewalks, streets or other public rights of way and how they could be interpreted as contradictory Monday night during a streets committee meeting. About 15 Marietta merchants attended the meeting.

One section of the code, 722.02 (a) says merchants can “… sell merchandise, wares, goods, foods, periodicals or other articles on the sidewalk located immediately adjacent to the front of their business so long as pedestrian movement is not unduly hindered thereby.”

But another section, 521.04 (c) states “No person shall place, deposit or maintain any merchandise, goods, material or equipment upon any sidewalk so as to obstruct pedestrian traffic. …”

“I can see where there’s confusion,” Bertram said. “We need to tighten this up so everybody knows where everyone stands.”

Many downtown merchants would agree that selling items from the sidewalk or offering outdoor dining attracts people downtown. That is especially true on Friday evenings with the popular Merchants and Artist Walk, held monthly May through August and again in November.

“‘This is wonderful.’ ‘We love it.’ ‘We are having fun,'” said Sylvi Caporale, owner of American Flags and Poles, 276 Front St., of the comments she hears during the event.

She said she doesn’t hear anything negative, including about navigating the sidewalks.

Marietta City Council President Walt Brothers suggested the need for defining “unduly hindered” when it comes to pedestrian sidewalk access and making Marietta Community Development Administrator Andy Coleman the single point of contact for new permit applications, including drawings of what the business owner proposes.

“What you’re proposing would be very burdensome (with submitting drawings),” said David Haney, with Friends of Front Street. “The most dangerous thing we have on Front Street is the lack of enforcement. … You try to cross the street you take your life in your hands. … Property owners have to take care of their own property.”

Most attendees agreed the city and the merchants have to work together to hammer out the solution.

“We’re part of the city,” said Teri Ann Pfeffer, owner of Teri Ann’s, 290 Front St. “It’s a team effort here.”

Legislation is expected out of the council committee stage in a week, according to City Law Director Paul Bertram III. Formal legislation may be introduced to the full council in July, he said.