Planners finalizing new sign rules for Blaine
By Meg Olson
Blaine planning commissioners hope to get their final licks in on the citys revised sign ordinance, sending it on to city council for final approval.
Sign ordinances are tough, said commission chairman Brad ONeill. You can never please anyone. After dozens of work sessions meetings and public hearings, the planning commission is expected to approve the revised rules June 14.
Most changes to the sign ordinance are minor language changes, intended to bring the code into compliance with the citys approved design guidelines and sign supplement and make the rules clearer and easier to enforce. A lot of the new ordinance is pretty well on track with the existing one, ONeill said. The existing ordinance had the intent but no language to enforce it. Weve added that.
Substantial changes proposed for local sign rules focus on limiting the height of signs and limiting off-premise signs and billboards.
What were looking at is phasing the high signs out over time with a sensitivity to the economic impact of that, said community economic development director Terry Galvin. Planning commissioners are still tinkering with a proposal to limit freestanding signs to 15 feet high and projecting signs to 25 feet, a significant step down from the towering signs now rising above the freeway as it passes through the center of downtown. We realize theres a strong need for merchants to have their signs seen from the freeway, ONeill said. However, tall signs are in direct conflict with your downtown streetscape. Were trying to put our finger on that and add some height and size to signs in some zones to address the demands of traffic. One proposal being considered would allow higher signs in the highway commercial zone on the north side of the freeway near the border but not in the downtown core.
Fueled by a fear of growing sign clutter, commissioners chose to ban billboards and concentrate off premise signs in specific areas, subject to stringent regulations. If we allow off-premise signs we can see there would be no stopping them, ONeill said. They would proliferate.
ONeill said billboards generally did not advertise Blaine businesses and services, but national companies. We think the people were trying to protect are the locals, ONeill said, emphasizing that, when off premise signage was allowed it should lead people to local merchants.
The decision to allow some off-premise signage was spurred by concern from business owners that many potential customers pass Blaine by because they dont know what the city has to offer. We realize theres a tremendous value and benefit in off-premise signs and this is our attempt at a compromise, ONeill said. The compromise would set aside three or four key areas in the city for off-premise directional signs of uniform design, which would be under city control. We would coordinate the signs on a well-defined structure, Galvin said.
Galvin said the city would push the state to make motorist information signs available on the freeway to give businesses another advertising outlet to replace high and off-premise signs. The blue signs directing travelers to gas, food, lodging, and other services are maintained by the state. We would lobby the state to get them in place and then the business would lease space on them for a low rate, Galvin said.
The new ordinance would balance tighter rules in some areas with less red tape in others. The planning commission is proposing lower fees for sign permits and the elimination of permits for several categories of smaller signs. Theres a level below which the city doesnt need to be involved, Galvin said. These signs dont have a significant visual impact on the surrounding area.
Galvin said the months planning commissioners have spent reviewing the ordinance and taking public comment had paid off. Theyre really taking this seriously and have done a lot of homework , he said. I think the end result will be a very nice ordinance that will result in a lower profile for signs in Blaine..