WORTHINGTON — Right-of-way obstruction on downtown Worthington sidewalks was one of several items discussed Wednesday by the Worthington City Council.

According to a city engineering memo, the City Center Association requested and received approval several years ago “for stores and other businesses to place items such as clothes racks, A-frame signs and chairs on the sidewalks in the downtown area.” The approval was limited to two feet abutting the place of business.

No other detailed restrictions were placed on such obstructions, except the time allowed being limited from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., the memo states. However, it notes the authorization sunseted in 1999.

“Staff has ignored items being placed in accordance with this approval since the original approval,” the memo continues. “Perhaps the approval may have been extended; no record of that is able to be found at this time.”

The matter was brought forward for discussion now because of a recent request to allow chairs to be placed in the right-of-way as an extension of a business licensed to serve alcohol and/or 3.2% beer.

“The lack of a documented approval for placing obstructions in rights-of-ways is cause to reconsider the current and previous request,” the memo states.

An opinion city staff received March 11 from Assistant City Attorney Jeffrey Flynn contends that the city council has the “authority to enact a ‘blanket authorization’ allowing businesses to

partially obstruct the right-of-way, provided normal use by all is not prevented by the

occupancy of the business or its patrons.” Such authorization would not violate existing regulation regarding liquor sales and consumption in public places,” the opinion adds.

On Wednesday, City Engineer Dwayne Haffield discussed the right-of-way obstruction matter with the council, asking members how they felt about the concept and how staff could proceed.

“Keep in mind how Worthington was platted and the way streets were constructed,” Haffield said, “We don’t have those large sidewalk areas … We have something more equivalent to a bike trail.”

Council member Alan Oberloh stressed a need “to keep this as simple as possible” with regard to language, while council member Chad Cummings said it was important for businesses to have all right-of-way instructions removed during non-business hours.

The council ultimately directed staff to prepare language for a blanket authorization that removes many conditions noted in the engineering memo. Once that language is set, council members will consider the next step in the process.

In other matters Wednesday:

  • City Administrator Steve Robinson spoke about city plans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with closure of city facilities to the public — with the exception of the municipal liquor store — he noted that members of the public could still request a face-to-face meeting, with the relevant department deciding if one is necessary.

Robinson added that rental house inspections have been suspended, and that the fire department has prepared guidelines on how it will respond to calls on health issues and vehicle crashes. The police department will have prevention kits in its squad cars, he said.

Meals on Wheels will be delivered from the Center for Active Living, which has been closed. The next Worthington City Council meeting, which remains scheduled for Monday, will take place at City Hall, but will be limited to 15 people (including city elected officials, staff and members of the press).

  • The council unanimously approved the concept of integrating a relocation of Flower Lane into the development of property owned by South Shore Acres LLC. The concept is intended to reduce the long-term financial obligation the public will have in perpetuating two streets by eliminating one that offers minimal benefit, while also reducing the capital costs needed for the property’s development. There are currently multiple realignments under consideration.