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City council signs off on downtown sidewalk signs

Whether they announce soup specials, point toward candy, advertise cell phones, offer flowers, sell sandwiches or call attention to coffee, signs located on downtown city sidewalks are now legal in Powell.

On Monday night, Powell city councilmen approved an ordinance allowing business signs on city-owned sidewalks, as long as signs have permits and meet certain conditions.

Signs must be placed directly in front of a business or building. If that happens to be on a corner, only one business may use the street corner — and the next sign must be 25 feet away.

“We don’t want more than one sign on the corner,” said Councilman Don Hillman Monday before the council approved the ordinance with a 6-1 vote.

Last spring, the city’s planning and zoning commission discussed the safety hazards posed by signs placed in walkways and street corners. The city code didn’t allow for the sandwich-board style signs, and the commission began reviewing the sign ordinance.

“There was no legal standing for the way they were,” said John Sides, who chairs the commission.

In the months while the sign ordinance was discussed, downtown business owners were issued temporary permits for their signs.

The commission recommended the city council allow the signs — but not on street corners — after more than six months of discussion.

Under the ordinance approved Monday, a business must have a revokable permit from the city to display a sign and carry insurance for damages up to $500,000, among other conditions.

At a public hearing on the issue last month, downtown tenant Bret Allred questioned the $500,000 requirement, and suggested reducing that amount so it wasn’t cost prohibitive.

“I believe it to be quite excessive,” he said.

Downtown business owner Billie Smith met with planning and zoning members for several months and said the sign insurance was intended to meet the concerns and needs of the city. Smith said she pays only about $17 a year for the $500,000 insurance coverage for her sign.

Sides said he appreciated the public involvement from Smith and others, and was glad each party could share their opinions and work toward a solution.

“It definitely was one of the few ordinances I’ve dealt with that had so much public involvement,” Sides said.

Powell’s business community also appreciated the involvement and the outcome.

“It shows that our government works,” said Kim Dillivan, executive director of the Powell Valley Chamber of Commerce. “There was a nice amount of work that the city did in deliberation and making the decision ... they really came up with a good decision.”

Smith said she was grateful for the city councilmen, who each met with her to discuss the signs.

“They genuinely listened to what I had to say,” Smith said. “And they tried to come up with a resolution.”

Smith said she wasn’t just saying that because they supported the sign ordinance in the end.

“It’s not because they voted yes,” she said. “They still had concerns, and they still put their own 2 cents in to make a difference ... I was impressed by how they treated me as an important part of the community.”

Smith noted that Councilman Steve Scott, who voted against the ordinance Monday, came up with an alternative to the signs on street corners.

Scott opposed the placement of business signs on city street corners and he suggested utilizing the banners on city streetlights to help call attention to side-street businesses.

The planning and zoning commission plans to consider the banners during an upcoming meeting, Sides said.

Sides said he would have preferred that the ordinance not allow signs on street corners — citing concerns with safety and clutter — but said it was the city council’s prerogative.

Downtown merchants who supported signs on street corners said their placement was vital for the success of their businesses.

“They’re effective, and they do help attract traffic,” Dillivan said, adding that they’re also an efficient tool for businesses and can be easily modified. “I can see the value of having these signs.”

For Smith’s candy shop business off Bent Street, the sign is vital, she said.

“It’s make it or break it for me,” she said. “My sign brings in 70 percent of my business.”

Smith said she told councilmen that if she wasn’t allowed to have her sign on the city sidewalk, “‘I’ll probably close up shop. I know I won’t survive.’ It wasn’t a threat — just the reality.”

The planning and zoning commission dealt with sidewalk signs first, but Sides said the issue of flashing signs also will be discussed in the future.

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