Thursday, August 28, 2008

Clayton allowing veggie stand -- for now

CLAYTON — Clayton leaders decided Tuesday night that two girls can re-open their vegetable stand — the one city staffers said two months ago violated zoning regulations and was immediately shut down.

As early as Wednesday, the Fisher Price card table could be back in front of the Lewis house on Mitchell Canyon Road, with 11-year-old Katie Lewis and sister 3-year-old Sabrina sitting behind it. They'll once again sell produce like the $1 melons and 50-cent radish bunches grown in their yard.

"We certainly see we've touched a nerve here," Planning Commissioner Keith Haydon said Tuesday night, referring to the regional and national media attention that rained down on the city of 10,000 once word got out that Mayor Gregg Manning had asked the police department to shut down the Lewis's stand.

Letting the stand operate is "in keeping with the flavor or image of Clayton," Haydon continued.

Commissioners said they will broaden the city's ordinance, which is so strict that it doesn't allow any commercial endeavor outside of one's home — including any kind of garage sale or even a lemonade stand.

But the new ordinance won't come out until January at the earliest, because of necessary legislative procedures. In the meantime, community development director David Woltering will enter into a specific agreement with the Lewises, through the girls' father, Mike, allowing the stand to operate. There will likely be limits on Advertisementhours of operation, parking and traffic flow and on how often the girls can open the stand each week.

About a dozen residents spoke out in favor of the Lewises.

"This whole thing is starting to sound like a Woody Allen movie," said resident Dana Valory. "I mean, how did we get here? These girls were selling from a table twice the size of this podium.

"These girls have been an inspiration to my kids," he said, referring to the fact that the girls grow their own produce, maintain it and then pick and sell it.

Resident John Roskelley urged tolerance.

"Can't we all just get along?" he said. "I don't want to explain to friends in Pennsylvania why my little town is on the news again. By golly, we should be able to make this work. It's getting embarrassing."

The issue hit a fever pitch last week when Manning said publicly that allowing the girls to run their stand would mean discriminating against the rest of Clayton residents — that the law prohibits anyone from running a roadside business in a residential area. If the city let the girls do it, he reasoned, then everyone would want to do it. Residents were outraged, insisting that to maintain Clayton's rural, small-town feel, the city must allow youth to engage in these harmless, entrepreneurial rites of passage.

Back in June, neighbor Jon Van Brusselen called the city to complain about traffic backed up on Mitchell Canyon in front of the Lewis house. That prompted the stand closure. On Tuesday, he urged the city to stand by its decision, and argued that the Lewises have debris in their yard — a broken-down car and tractor, a boat and a pile of compost for the garden.

"I am extremely impacted by this," he said, noting that he lives directly across the street. "Everyone else here drives by and sees this occasionally but I'm staring at this mess 24-7. I don't feel like I should have to look at this every time I look outside my window."

"This is a residential area. It's not fair to me."

Commissioners said that if there were traffic, noise or aesthetic issues, the city's nuisance ordinance should deal with that.

And eleven-year-old Sam Albertsen had another solution.

"If people have traffic issues, they can fix it," he said, referring to the Lewises. "Tell them what the problem is, and they'll fix it."

Planning Commissioner Ed Hartley said the girls should be able to operate their stand, even while the city revamps its old ordinance, as long as they meet certain conditions.

"I don't think the city did anything wrong here," he said. "Someone came to us with a code violation and we looked into it. In fact, it would have been wrong to ignore it."

But he and other commissioners acknowledged that the city's code on outdoor occupations is too strict.

"Their occupation is being kids," Hartley said. "They don't need a permit for that."

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