ASHLAND — Citizens and retailers on a downtown task force are recommending that businesses be allowed to display three-dimensional objects such as the stuffed bear, giraffe and stone lion recently ordered removed by the city.

ASHLAND — Citizens and retailers on a downtown task force are recommending that businesses be allowed to display three-dimensional objects such as the stuffed bear, giraffe and stone lion recently ordered removed by the city.

Enforcement of the decades-old sign code — with 30 warnings given out in recent weeks — caused an outcry from retailers who said complying with the code would cost them business at the height of the tourist season.

After three meetings this month, panel members favored removal of the ban on three-dimensional representations within limits on the number and size of such objects.

Presently, only two-dimensional signs are allowed, but tourists and townfolk have come to expect the bear in front of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, the giraffe at Bug A Boo, the lion at Black Sheep and other eye-catching objects.

After a final meeting Aug. 4, the task force will send recommendations to the City Council for action.

Members favored altering city ordinance to allow any type of merchandise on sidewalks, with retailers paying a lease fee to the city. City staff said the move could lead to a more cluttered downtown with less room for pedestrians.

Former Councilman Don Laws, a member of the task force, opposed using sidewalks for merchandise, noting it would diminish the downtown's appearance. George Kramer, task force member and historic preservation consultant, said selling fruits, vegetables and flowers on the sidewalk would improve the downtown's character.

The task force backed a proposal directing city staff to come up with "encroachment permits" that allow flower pots, trash cans and tree gratings on sidewalks. It favored a similar city study to make rules for news racks, which are proliferating on sidewalks.

City Administrator Martha Bennett reminded the panel that objects placed in the city right-of-way become the property of the city — and that the donor needs to sign an agreement holding the city harmless for them. The group also supported creating city guidelines that would allow, on sidewalks, city-made signs with arrows pointing to shops that are off the street and not visible.

Members supported elimination of the ban on downtown employee parking, saying it goes too far in restricting employees' access to downtown while off-work or making drop-by trips to the business. City staff members said business owners would have to increase monitoring of workers' parking.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.