Charlottesville Planning Commission
has decided not to consider a permit system to regulate yard sales. Instead, the Commission has directed zoning officials to use other means to stop people from operating semi-permanent sales in their yard. The decision came following a 55 minute discussion held at a Planning Commission work session on September 22, 2009.
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“I’m not in favor of having mom and pop having to come to City Hall to get a $5 permit for a yard sale,” said Commissioner
during a work session on the topic.
Earlier this summer, the Commission agreed to study the issue for two reasons. First, zoning inspectors wanted to reduce the number of signs used to advertise the sales. It is illegal for residents to post signs off of their property. Second, staff wanted guidance on how to stop residents from holding repeated yard sales throughout the year.
Zoning inspector Craig Fabio told the Commission that the zoning code is unclear on whether such sales could be classified as “temporary outdoor sales,” which are allowed in some of the City’s zoning districts, but not all. These sales require permission from the property owner, as well as a temporary use permit from the City which costs $250.
“Yard sales and temporary outdoor sales came together mostly for lack of a better definition,” said Zoning Inspector Craig Fabio.
Fabio said that over in the year and a half he has worked for the City, there have been about a dozen locations where people were holding repeated sales. Examples include an impromptu produce stand on Long Street and a carpet sales outlet that periodically sets up on Preston Avenue. Many stopped after the issue was discussed by the Commission in July.
“It seems that at the moment we have them all in compliance,” Fabio said.
Commissioner Bill Emory suggested that illegal sales could be dealt with by referring violators to state authorities for not collecting any sales taxes. Fabio agree, and referred to a 2003 opinion from Ken Thorson, who was Virginia’s Tax Commissioner at the time. Fabio quoted:
“It is my opinion that a person who conducts an occasional yard sale on an irregular basis is not engaged in business as defined by the Virginia code,” Thorson wrote. “On the other hand, one who sets up a flea market besides the road or in a parking lot during most weekends in the spring, summer and fall is in engaged in business.”
asked if there was a way to allow for citizens to temporarily post signs advertising their sales. Creasy expressed concern that any attempts to allow signs would open up the floodgates to other signs undesired by the City.
“Expanding that opens doors that I don’t know if we’re interested in opening,” Creasy said. She said the City would then need to allow signs for everything.
Fabio said zoning inspectors come across many yard sale signs, and frequently send letters to homeowners notifying them the signs are illegal. The fines are $100 for the first violation, and $250 for each additional sign up to $5,000, but these are seldom enforced.
“We don’t want to take anyone to court for yard sales,” Fabio said.
At the end of the discussion, the Commission directed staff to develop suggested guidelines for yard sales, including a mention that posting signs is illegal and encouraging people to take them down after posting them.