Regulating the signs of the times

Published on Thu, Mar 22, 2001 by Soren Velice

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Regulating the signs of the times

By Soren Velice

In a continuing effort to draw up a workable sign ordinance, the city’s land use committee had the first of at least two workshops last week to seek public input into the drafting process; the committee will meet again April 4 at 5:15 p.m. in city council’s chamber to seek further comment.

“I’m a huge fan of public workshops,” planning commissioner Brad O’Neill said. “What you’re doing is giving the people that would want a chance to speak at a public hearing a chance to be part of the process behind it.”

Signs Plus proprietor Terry Martens opened a discussion about how difficult business is in Blaine. “This town is so hard to do business in,” he said, “it’s not worth our time to go out and sell the signs.” Mike Hill, owner of Hill Chevron, agreed. “Maybe if this town was a little more user-friendly, there might be more Holiday Inns and that sort of thing.”

After the meeting came to its intended task of examining the proposed ordinances, however, it was all business. Most discussions centered around three types of signs. The first, tall freeway signs such as those at Denny’s and USA Gasoline, continues to be a bone of contention. “The new language is eliminating signs that might let you know there’s something going on here,” Signpost owner Ray George said. “What does the prohibition help?” Caleb Bowe asked. “It goes against the goal of bringing people in.”

O’Neill, however, said after the meeting that an increase from the draft ordinance’s 25-foot height restriction is unlikely to meet support from the planning commission or city council. “The only indication I have received from council on signs regards those signs,” he said. “Council sent a strong message they are trying to reduce the height of those signs.” O’Neill did, however, allow that some flexibility is necessary to reconcile aesthetic values with the goal of bringing people in off the freeway.

The next proposed ordinance on the table was one banning billboards. George, understandably concerned about any kind of sign being prohibited altogether, once again launched the discussion. “There are particular areas you could have them,” he said. “Say, D Street? Absolutely not. But to restrict them altogether is a mistake. We could have them on the truck highway and Portal Way up to Chuck’s with restrictions on how far apart they could be.” Bob Christianson remained opposed. “I don’t think billboards are attractive,” he said. “Being at the south end of town and wanting to see it grow, I still don’t want to see them.” Community and economic development director Terry Galvin said he is under the impression they are unpopular. “I’ve seen repetition of a desire for a scenic loop coming in from Peace Portal going on to the last exit,” he said.

Martens, when Galvin asked his opinion, said the city has bigger fish to fry than billboards. “From your standpoint, you’ve got much greater things to fight than billboards,” he said. “You people need to advertise – you’re not marketing yourselves.”

O’Neill and others made the observation that billboards more often than not benefit national rather than local interests. “You have to ask yourself ‘are they really helping citizens of the city they’re in?’ In a great many cases they’re not,” he said.

When the discussion turned to a proposed off-premise sign regulation, Galvin noted it would limit the signs to directional use only. “For myself personally, having a business that’s mobile, this can affect me,” Bowe said. His auto and boat detailing business is completely mobile, so his only sign option is off-premise. “Having a sign on a trailer, I agree it’s tacky,” he said. “And I don’t think there should be signs in residential areas; but I should be allowed to put them at businesses in business areas with their permission.”

Land use committee chair Ken Trupp agreed off-premise signs deserve a closer look. “What we’re hearing is a need for off-premise signs,” Trupp said, “but with rules for maintenance, location and how many we can have.” O’Neill was also sympathetic to extenuating circumstances “Off-premise signs need to be looked at again,” he said. “What do businesses do that are two or three streets back from the main drag?”

Galvin added the proposed ordinance’s conditional use would give some leeway for businesses like Bowe’s. “The point here is we’ve got to have some provision for creativity,” he said.

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