The first reading of an ordinance that will require property owners to obtain a permit for sidewalk displays was approved by the Decorah City Council Monday night.

Council members have been discussing how to regulate "sandwich boards," tables, chairs and outdoor displays since they aren't currently addressed by city code. At its meeting earlier this month, members said they needed a way to enforce an ordinance.

Monday night the Council reviewed options for dealing with violations -- prosecuting them as a misdemeanor through the magistrate court system or having city officials manage them through a permit process. Processing a violation through the court system takes up to 60 days, said City Attorney Rick Zahasky, who recommended the Council use the permit approach.

Under the proposed ordinance, once a property owner receives a permit, it will remain in force until there is a change of ownership or the permit is revoked.

The Council also set the fines for violations. There will be a written warning for the first offense and a $25 fine for the second offense. The permit will be revoked after a third offense.

Merchants who obtain sidewalk display permits will be allowed to use three feet of the sidewalk next to the property line, whenever the sidewalk is at least 10 feet wide, and two feet where the sidewalk is less than 10 feet wide.

Temporary signs no larger than two feet across and four feet tall, and having no more than two functional sides for message display will be allowed. Tables, chairs and/or benches also are allowed.

Three readings are required before an ordinance can be considered for adoption. Council member Gary Rustad said the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce should be informed about the new ordinance.