By Dave Fidlin
Shopkeepers in Waterford’s historic downtown Heritage District will be permitted to shield windows with cloth backdrops or other materials, following action Monday by the Village Board.
On a narrow 4-3 vote, the board voted down a proposal by Village President Tom Roanhouse to enact a restriction that would have made it against code to shield windows with displays that would prevent clear visibility into a building.
“It’s for security reasons,” Roanhouse said of the rationale to restrict backdrops that would hinder a person’s ability to see into a store space.
Monday’s discussion was the latest in a series about design guidelines in the Heritage District.
Roanhouse, who chairs the Plan Commission, ran into similar narrow opposition on the appointed body. Commissioners last week voted favorably of the proposed restriction on a 4-3 vote before bringing the issue to the Village Board.
Trustee Judy Spencer – who is opposing Roanhouse for the Board President position in the April 2 election – was among the board members who voted against the idea.
“I can’t see anyone covering their whole window,” she said.
While it has not been prevalent in Waterford, Roanhouse said there have been instances in other communities of shopkeepers obstructing views into store spaces from the street level.
“Milwaukee has hundreds of stores that are like this,” Roanhouse said.
The defeated language called on a 2-foot setback to ensure there were not any obstructions in window displays. The condition would have applied to obstructions from displays, signage and advertising materials.
Trustee Don Houston expressed concern about the vague nature of the language.
“It can be interpreted in many different ways,” Houston said.
Members of the Village Board and Plan Commission have been wrangling over design guidelines in the Heritage District in the past year.
For example, in September, issues pertaining to window signs were scrutinized, and a proposal to prohibit neon signs was brought to the table.
Proponents stated bright signage would detract from the historical character of the Heritage District. But opponents stated such a restriction was overstepping the bounds of local government.
When the topic of restricting the use of backdrops came up Monday, Spencer was among the board members expressing frustration with the ongoing dialogue.
“We’ve gone back and forth and back and forth and back and forth on this,” Spencer said.
The village has been working in tandem with Absolutely Waterford, the local organization that has been instrumental in Waterford’s designation in the Main Street Program.
A comprehensive overview of the full design guidelines is available on the village’s website, www.vi.waterford.wi.gov.
The document, comprising more than 30 pages, touches on such issues as building facades, on-street parking, permissible signage and the virtues of using sustainable materials within the Heritage District.
Guidelines also state the procedures property owners and renters need to take to obtain proper permits.