Panel to study newsracks

Published 5:59 pm Wednesday, April 29, 2009

By Staff
Speakers voice support for regulating numbers, locations of display boxes
Contributing Editor
Washington’s Planning Board is forming a subcommittee to study what to do with obstructions on city property such as sidewalks, particularly in the historic district and downtown area.
In addition to looking at newsracks and display boxes containing free publications such as real estate magazines, the committee will look at items such as free-standing signs (also known as sandwich boards), large flower pots and bicycle racks.
The committee will solicit input from Downtown Washington on the Waterfront, the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association and the Historic Preservation Commission, said board Chairwoman Dot Moate.
Alligood said she fears that without regulation, the problem with the display boxes will “migrate to the waterfront.”
Several people spoke in favor of some sort of regulation regarding such obstructions, with most of them singling out display boxes for real estate magazines.
Ross Hamory, president of Downtown Washington on the Waterfront, said he’s spoken with several people who believe there are too many such display boxes downtown and don’t like the “garish colors” of the boxes.
Hamory said boxes with free publications are more problematic than newsracks, saying there’s a difference between free publications that are solely advertising and newspapers that provide a mix of news and ads.
Hamory also suggested the display boxes be banned from downtown or clustered in one or two areas.
Dee Congleton, who lives in the historic district, said there are “too many (free-publication) kiosks” in the downtown area for her taste, but she “totally welcomes” newsracks. She also supports the subcommittee taking a look at other sidewalk obstructions, but with a caveat.
Downtown resident Scott Campbell doesn’t support completely banning newsracks and display boxes in the downtown area, but said “some regulation does need to occur.”
Board member Steve Moler suggested the possibility of banning newsracks and display boxes from public sidewalks and streets, with the racks owners placing them inside restaurants, shops and businesses — with permission of the property or business owner.
Moler said he sees no need for the city to create a special newsrack district, something some other cities and towns have done.
John Rodman, a city planner, told the board that the racks and boxes sometimes hamper pedestrian traffic on public sidewalks. Some racks and boxes are not as attractive as they could be and detract from the character of certain areas of the city, such as its historic district, he added.
During a recent tour of the city’s central business district, Rodman said, he counted 32 newspaper racks and magazine boxes in that area. Eighteen of them were on Main Street, 10 were on Market Street, two were on Stewart Parkway and Gladden Street, and Second Street each had one, he said.
Eighteen of the racks and boxes provided free real estate publications, eight of them provided free copies of Bella magazine, four coin-operated newsracks dispensed copies of the Washington Daily News and two provided free copies of Her magazine.