It’s a topic that has surfaced from time to time around town, and one that the Burke City Council began to address in an informal discussion at the end of its meeting on Monday. What to do about the Main Street canopies? To be clear, there’s no immediate problem with the trademark structures that were dedicated 34 years ago in 1980. The canopies and balconies made of western red cedar were meant to evoke a turn-of-the-20th century feel, and they convey an instant, unmistakably Burke image to all passing through.
Still, after three decades there seemed to be consensus among council members that a re-examination and perhaps updating of the city rules governing the canopy district is in order. “I’ve heard a couple of people talk about the need to revisit the canopy district. “I think we should,” said councilor David Burd after the council had finished its regular business during the meeting.
As an example, Burd said he had been approached by an individual who asked about the possibility of using a treated post to support a canopy and covering it with a cedar wrap. The city ordinance stipulates that the posts and frame structure must be made of cedar wood. Would such a proposal meet that city stipulation? “That’s just more incentive to look at it. Thirty years ago or whenever this came up – the building materials have changed so much,” said Burd. “There are more economical and long-lasting building materials that would save the city time and make it more economical and user-friendly for the business owners (to maintain).”
City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp said there is room for improvement with the ordinance, and that changes could benefit both business owners and city staff. “Cedar is a high-maintenance type of wood. Not only is it high-maintenance for business owners, but then it’s a lot of work in our office to every two years send out the letters, follow up with those that don’t do (the required maintenance), get the inspections, check for those that need improvements … there is a lot of administrative work that goes into that,” she said.
There is some precedent for change. In 2009 the city council agreed to allow business owners to paint their canopies different colors than the previously mandated cedar, a move that livened up the look of the street and helped different businesses stand out from one another. “We looked at it briefly then. But I’m hearing more – I don’t know if grumbling is the world – but questions,” said Burd. “I think maybe we have a responsibility to review that policy.”
Talk about the next step for the canopy system has not only come from business owners residing under those roofs. Several candidates for Annandale city office mentioned the canopy district in their statements prior to the election. Dwight “Dewey” Gunnarson, current council member and mayor-elect, said at the time that some forward thinking was required. “Our canopy system is getting old and we need to plan for the next generation of this concept in order to maintain our downtown identity,” he wrote in response to a list of questions posed by the Advocate.
Hinnenkamp added that she has heard discussion about the canopies from members of the recently formed Downtown Committee, which is working to create a vision for the downtown overall. “I don’t think anybody has this agenda to get rid of the canopies, but it’s (more a question of) ‘Should we continue to have them in the way that they are, or should we allow them to be improved and changed?’” Hinnenkamp said. “I don’t think we’re going to solve it tonight, but I think it would be a good first step to have a couple of us meet with the Downtown Committee and maybe come back with some recommendations,” said Burd. In the end, the council decided to have Gunnarson and Burd serve as a canopy committee to examine the question further.