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Rules of the board

Electronic sign standards scrutinized, to be discussed again Monday night

Following a lengthy discussion about how to regulate electronic signs last week, Powell city councilmen decided to send a proposed ordinance change back to the drawing board.
Powell’s city code does not currently allow for flashing electronic signs, and the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission proposed an amendment outlining 10 conditions and standards to regulate electronic signs.

Councilmen and sign owners discussed regulations for animation, brightness, colors and time limits for signs during last week’s public hearing.
“We need to have some sort of regulation on them,” said Councilman Eric Paul, adding that electronic signs are currently in violation of city code.
“I don’t think this does it though,” Councilman Floyd Young said.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion on this in planning and zoning — a lot,” continued Paul.
The planning and zoning commission will revisit the issue again during its monthly meeting Monday, April 30. The commission meets at 7 p.m.
Times of the sign
The proposed amendment called for signs to display text or images for at least five seconds to avoid quickly flashing signs that could distract drivers.
Brent Foulger, owner of Blair’s Market in Powell, said that is too long, and drivers will pass the sign before an entire message or advertisement is displayed.
“I personally think this is quite restrictive to the businesses we have,” Foulger said. “I ask the council to completely do away with it and start over again or address those issues that we have.”
“If they change too much, there is a certain concern of safety at some point,” said Councilman John Wetzel.
“Well, has there ever been an accident in front of my store because of my sign?” Foulger asked.
“I’m thinking more of the high school one, where it’s dark out there and then all of a sudden you get hit with a blast of light,” Wetzel said.
Later in the meeting, Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman John Sides added, “Yes, there are no wrecks there that I know of — but who knows what could happen in the future?”
Originally, the Planning and Zoning Commission looked at requiring 15 seconds for each frame but worked it down to five, said Paul.
“We went round and round on this quite a bit — actually, hours and hours have been spent on this very topic,” he said.
Councilman Jim Hillberry suggested making it three seconds instead.
A proposed curfew for signs in residential areas also raised concern. The amendment called for signs within 200 feet of a residential zone to be shut off from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“That has implications for (Northwest) College and the Student Senate, that just allocated money to upgrade that sign,” said David Plute, NWC facilities director.
“Students are on that campus 24 hours a day,” Plute added.
Councilman John Wetzel questioned whether the college wanted an exception.
“I kind of find that to have your cake and eat it, too. You want that speed limit through that zone to be considered residential, and you want the stop signs and you want everybody to respect the fact that you’re driving through a college campus, but now we’re talking about putting a brightly lit sign running 24 hours a day, flashing every second.”
“No I’m not — I’m here just to clarify,” Plute said. “I’m not here to have my cake and eat it too, and quite frankly, I resent the tone.”
Wetzel apologized and said he was trying to clarify what the college is asking for.
“I’m not asking for anything other than to clarify what’s in the ordinance and how it impacts the college,” Plute said, adding that he’s willing to help.
“This is the first we’ve heard of this, and we’re here to give our input,” Plute said.
“It’s a public hearing,” Wetzel replied. “I’m asking what you would like to see so I know how to represent that particular sign and instance.”
“Dialogue — that’s all I’m here for,” Plute said.
Other advertisements
Another regulation in the proposed amendment prohibits sign owners from advertising outside businesses. It would only allow advertising for the on-site business and community events or activities.
“To me, I think that’s somewhat restrictive, too,” Foulger said. He gave the example of a real estate agent asking to advertise an open house on the Blair’s sign.
“As a public service to her, I would say, ‘Sure, I can do that,’ but this says I can’t do that,” he said.
Councilmen also questioned what makes a “community event.”
“So, congratulations Panthers for winning state wrestling is all right,” Mangold said.
“But Jim Hillberry’s 50th anniversary is not,” Foulger replied.
“It depends on how you define community events, I guess,” Councilman Don Hillman replied.
City code prohibits off-premise signs, partly to prevent cluttered street corners.
“I understand the reason that the ordinance came into place, because we didn’t want 15 signs on someone’s frontage — turn here to go to the boot place, and turn here to go to the liquor store and turn here because there are flowers down this road,” Paul said. “How would we go about creating an exception for people with electronic signs to advertise off-site?”
Mangold said the ordinance would have to be modified.
Foulger said the sign owner wants to advertise their own business primarily — but they should also have the option of sharing their electronic sign with other businesses or residents.
“I’m not trying to get into the advertising business on my sign … what I’m trying to do is, if someone wants to advertise a new business, I should be able to put that up there. That should be my privilege as a sign owner, to help Powell grow, and to be able to do those things,” Foulger said
Assistant City Attorney Scott Kath said the Planning and Zoning Commission is trying to be proactive in updating the ordinance and that commissioners “did spend a lot of time — a lot of time — on this ordinance and went back and forth on a lot of these sections.”
He said they also have reached out to local sign owners.
Enforcement of sign ordinance
The proposed amendment also outlines how bright or intense lights should be on signs.
However, some questioned how the city could enforce it.
“As I’ve stated, I’m not the biggest fan of putting something in that’s unenforceable,” Paul said. “That’s why we chose to enforce it during the permitting process.”
A sign owner must get a building permit if they upgrade or alter the sign, said William Petersen, city building official.
“During the permitting process, if we can let people know this is the intensity we’re looking for, and most people are going to cooperate,” Sides said.
He added that he didn’t think the city wants to invest in equipment to measure light intensity.
“I’m sure Will (Petersen) would love an intensity meter, but I’m afraid that’s not part of the budget,” Mangold quipped.
The Planning and Zoning Commission began discussing the city’s sign ordinance two years ago, Sides said, starting with sandwich-board signs. As discussion continues, Sides invited sign owners to get involved.
“You all are welcome to come and join us and help us work out the bugs in this,” he said.

 

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