Mission downtown businesses talk proper sidewalk use

Mission is hoping to strike a balance between making sidewalks downtown walkable and having businesses take advantage of the space.

Businesses in downtown Mission are working out how to safely activate sidewalk space.

City government and the Mission Business Partnership are working on education for new business owners in how to comply with city code while utilizing the sidewalk space in a tasteful, welcoming way. City code only prohibits obstructions and destruction of sidewalk; it doesn’t dictate how sidewalk can or cannot be used.

Emily Randel, Mission public information officer, shared some of those efforts with the Mission council during its community development committee meeting earlier this month.

“Activating that space, making it feel welcome, inviting customers, showing that you’re open, putting your personality out there is very desirable and something that we want to see to increase the vitality of our downtown district,” Randel said, “but there are no real stated rules of the road for what can be done safely, what we’d like to see and what we’d not like to see, in terms of just protecting people and our investment in that area.”

Randel said she hasn’t heard of any issues between businesses about sharing sidewalk space, but she has heard concerns about “aesthetics and taste issues and over-exuberant use of sidewalk space.”

“At that time, the city didn’t really have teeth to say one way or the other, so what we hope is that we continue the conversation about what is best for the community, what does this community want to see, what makes sense in that space and what doesn’t,” Randel said. “Maybe the businesses, too, can help us get that conversation out, so it comes about more naturally.”

So far, business owners have been receptive, but some are concerned about installing permanent structures or fixtures that might harm the area, she added.

Above all, businesses cannot hinder the actual purpose of sidewalks, Randel said. The city must ensure business owners maintain a passing distance of at least 4 feet to accommodate passersby in wheelchairs.

Talks with the Mission Business Partnership have led to an agreed set of guidelines for safe, appropriate and effective use of sidewalk space. To help spread this information, the partnership plans to include sidewalk guidelines in its new business welcome packet.

Randel said the guidelines, while universal, were written with downtown businesses in mind but can extend to other Mission businesses.

A draft version of the sidewalk guidelines dictates the following:

  • Display props and merchandise, or set out a dog bowl or sandwich board sign
  • Bring items in at night
  • Make sure items are secure and won’t blow away
  • Maintain a passing distance of at least 4 feet
  • Have a clear height of at least 8 feet
  • Do not drill into the hardscape or make any permanent alterations to the streetscape features
  • Have an idea? Check with the city to make sure you can pull it off safely

Councilmember Kristin Inman said an educational and informative approach is positive and encouraging for new businesses.

“I’d hate to get businesses to come in and then get established and then tell them, ‘No, you’re not in compliance,’” Inman said.

Councilmember Sollie Flora asked if the guidelines will remain informal or become ordinances. Randel said the staff would like to keep it informal for now.

“I think we should test this… and see how that goes,” Randel said, adding that the guidelines will not be punitive in nature.

“If we can do this collaboratively and in an encouraging way, then perhaps we don’t have to have an ordinance,” added city administrator Laura Smith.

Randel said giving the sidewalk guidelines to established business owners can help spread education and awareness to newcomers.

“I think there can be some good passing-around of information there,” she said.