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Sidewalk Sitting Ban Proposed in Burlington


Published May 13, 2010 at 12:10 p.m.

A proposed ordinance being reviewed by Burlington City Councilors could ban people from sitting on the sidewalks of five key downtown streets that feed onto the Church Street Marketplace.

The ban would also extend to sandwich board signs or other types of advertising, though it would allow any existing licensed "encumbrances" to continue until their license expires.

The Burlington City Council Monday night agreed to send the proposed ordinance to its Ordinance Committee for review. The three-member committee is chaired by Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5), and includes Councilors Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) and Bram Kranichfeld (D-Ward 2).

The ordinance would create a "right of way" extending six feet from the edge of buildings, and would mirror existing bans on the Church Street Marketplace. The Marketplace "right-of-way" extends nine feet from the edge of buildings.

The affected streets would be Pearl, Cherry, Bank, College and Main Streets between South Winooski Avenue and St. Paul Street.

The proposed ordinance was crafted "in response to a variety of complaints and concerns about persons seated, laying down, and in a host of other stationary positions on the sidewalks in the downtown," wrote Police Chief Michael Schirling in a memo to councilors.

Hmm, I wonder what "other stationary positions" look like.

The proposal, according to Schirling, would be a "pilot project" to keep the sidewalks free for all pedestrians, including the elderly and disabled.

The intent of the ordinance, as drafted, reads, in part: "This section is enacted to protect the public safety and to provide for unencumbered passage for pedestrians and disabled citizens ... and to promote the economic vitality of the downtown area."

It would also likely curb the kind of panhandling downtown pedestrians pass by on several downtown routes. Seven Days staffer Andy Bromage tackled the subject in this week's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, asking: "Why do panhandlers hang out in that spot on Main Street?"

The answer? According to those Bromage talked to it's either a good spot to ask for spare change or its simply the sunnier side of the street.

The ordinance is just another in a series of efforts aimed at "cleaning up" downtown Burlington. Earlier this year, the council adopted a smoking ban for the city's parks and beaches. Church Street was spared from the ban this time, but a previous effort to ban smoking on the Marketplace failed, too. Who knows? Maybe the third time is the charm.

On Monday, too, the council voted 10-4 to oppose the issuance of an Act 250 permit to Phoenix House to operate a 20-bed transitional house on Elmwood Avenue, just a half block from the top of Church Street. The opposition to the proposal was fueled, in part, by downtown business concerns that it would add more "undesirable people" onto the Marketplace and detract shoppers from coming to the pedestrian mall.

Wonder if we'll see a renewed interest in Westward Ho!, a privately-funded effort in the 1980s that gave certain folks a one-way bus ticket out of town. And, not just Shelburne or Charlotte out of town, but waaayyy out of town.

Photo credit: Andy Bromage.