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Council approves penalty on laser pointers

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Watch where you point that laser.

Action taken by City Council March 1 will make it a punishable offense against public peace to aim a laser pointer at an person, animal, vehicle, building or residence, unless you are a surveyor or a police officer performing his or her duties.

The council passed the ordinance, which prohibits selling the laser pointers to children under 18, after complaints from area retailers, including officials from the Battlefield Mall, prompted them to examine the extent to which the laser pointers were being used.

The punishment for focusing, pointing or shining the beam of a laser pointer inappropriately could include six months' jail time and a $500 fine. Some council members expressed reservations at passing the ordinance, saying it went a bit too far.

"This feels bad to me. It feels like overkill. ... I'm worried the public may perceive 'where will we go next?'" said Councilwoman Teri Hacker, who voted yes along with the rest of the council members.

Councilman Gary Gibson was also concerned the council could be overreacting.

"Are we overreacting to a situation that should be controlled somewhere else?" Gibson asked.

In other council action, the council held a first reading on the final four rezoning cases in the West Central neighborhood project. A plan to lower the density in the neighborhood was passed by council May 11, 1998, and the council has heard and passed a series of bills since then.

These last four bills would change the zoning in the neighborhood to mostly residential, single family, though one ordinance would change the zoning in one area of the neighborhood to residential townhouse and low density multifamily.

No one spoke against the bills, but several neighbors spoke in favor of the rezoning and of lowering the density in the neighborhood, which has had a mix of uses in the past. One of the ordinances was amended to permit a Casey's General Store to locate on the corner of Grand and Grant; that area would retain a general retail zoning.

Another ordinance pertaining to that neighborhood passed unanimously. Interstate Brands, which does business as Butternut Bread, can go ahead with the expansion of its bakery after council passed an ordinance that will rezone land at the northwest corner of Grant Avenue and Walnut Street from a medium density multifamily residential district and a center city district to a commercial services district.

Council also unanimously passed three ordinances to rezone about 55 acres along U.S. 65 and Battlefield Road to planned developments. The property, owned by Lee McLean and Larry Childress, will be a retail and office development.

An ordinance and a substitute dealing with the placement of billboards in the James River Scenic Corridor District also had public hearings. The substitute ordinance would increase the distance between billboards along James River Expressway from 1,500 feet to 9,000 feet and would reduce the size of signs to be placed in that area from a maximum of 700 square feet to a maximum of 350 square feet.

Carter Clarke, general manager of Lamar Advertising, said he was in favor of restrictions on billboards, but not to this extent. [[In-content Ad]]

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