The Largo city staff picked a bad time — in the midst of the deepest recession since the Great Depression — to try to implement new rules on garage sales in that city. Why make it harder for people to pick up a little extra money by having garage sales? Even if some emergency required that the city immediately lower the boom on garage sales, the staff's whole approach was wrongheaded.
Largo's city code now has only one line about garage sales. That line limits residents to "three garage sales per year per tenant." The city staff said that one line was not sufficient to stop people from having too many garage sales and suggested new rules to the City Commission Feb. 9. Among the new limitations they suggested:
• Residents could sell only their own personal property. No joining with neighbors for one big sale — a common occurrence in many neighborhoods — or allowing Grandma to bring over a few things to sell or letting the Girl Scout next door sell cookies at your garage sale. And items for sale must be items used at the property where the sale was being conducted.
• No merchandise purchased for resale could be sold at a garage sale.
• Garage sales would be allowed only on residential property or the property of a nonprofit organization.
• Only three sales, each for a duration of no more than three days, could be held each year.
• Garage sale signs could not be placed in road rights of way.
• No city permit would be required, but residents planning a sale would have to notify the city of the sale address and dates and the name of the person conducting the sale so the city could keep track of the number of sales at their home.
City staff told commissioners that the new regulations were necessary because some people were having too many yard sales and were even selling new merchandise they had purchased for resale. Neighbors were complaining about the constant yard sales, they said.
City commissioners were not eager to slap residents with new garage sale regulations, especially after learning that the city receives only four or five complaints a year.
"I understand that we don't want flea markets in front of people's homes," said Mayor Pat Gerard, but she called garage sales "a great American activity" and suggested the city loosen up. She even said that despite the city's ban on signs in the street right of way, she wouldn't mind people putting one garage sale sign beside the street if it were picked up at the end of the sale.
Several commissioners were amused by the idea that people would inform the city of their yard sales just to help the city with its record keeping. And Commissioner Woody Brown didn't see how the city could enforce a garage sale code anyway, since it has no code enforcement officers working on weekends.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes had the most practical idea of the evening. He said that if the problem is that some people are operating commercial businesses in their driveways, then they ought to be required to apply for an occupational license.
Under that approach, residents who could not meet the standards for an occupational license and continued to conduct their so-called garage sales could be cited for operating an unlicensed business. It's an approach that would not punish everyone for the sins of a few.
After listening to the commissioners, the city staffers who had suggested the new code decided it needed more work before they bring it back for approval. Hopefully, they won't be in any hurry.