Main Street signs discussed

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Council to consider changes to sign ordinance MondayCity planning and zoning members and Powell merchants agree that signs should be allowed on downtown sidewalks. There is disagreement, however, on how signs should be regulated on the city-owned walkways. Chief among disagreements is the location of signs on sidewalks — whether a sign should be placed directly in front of a business or if it can be off premise, such as on a city corner.

During a public hearing Monday night, the city's Planning and Zoning Commission discussed proposed changes to the sign ordinance and heard from several local business owners, who advocated for the placement of signs on city sidewalks.

Following Monday's hearing, the commission voted 4-2 to recommend approval of proposed amendments to the city's sign ordinance to allow signs directly in front of a business, as long as they meet regulations within the city code. The commission's recommendation goes to City Councilmen, who consider changes to the ordinance during a public hearing at 7:05 p.m. Monday, Dec. 6.

Business owners would be required to have insurance for their signs, covering damages or injuries to individuals or property of at least $500,000. The signs also would be required to have a permit issued through the city of Powell's building official. Permits could be revoked at any time and for any reason.

Sandy Butts, who works in downtown Powell, asked why Planning and Zoning was focusing on sandwich-board style signs on sidewalks when other objects obstruct the same space — such as trash cans, benches, trees and fire hydrants.

“A sign is a movable, collapsible object,” she said.

“It's not in the (current) ordinance to allow those signs,” said John Sides, Commission chairman. “We are looking at establishing a criteria to allow those signs. It's not our desire to take all of those signs away.”

Planning and Zoning Commission members disagree on exactly what that criteria should be, especially when it comes to placement of signs.

“I don't see a big problem with having those off-premise signs on corners,” said Josh Shorb, who was recently appointed to the commission and attended his first meeting Monday.

Shorb and Commissioner Shane Shoopman voted against recommending the proposed sign ordinance changes to the council. Each cited concerns with some of the proposal's restrictions, such as the prohibition of signs on street corners.

Shorb suggested that side-street businesses share Bent Street corners in a process or lottery regulated by William Petersen, the city's building official.

“A lot of the businesses have already worked it out among themselves,” Shorb said.

Commissioner Tim Sapp said it only takes one business to cause a problem.

“To date, we haven't had that one,” Petersen said.

If businesses couldn't agree on a rotation, then none of them could place signs, Petersen said.

Commissioner Shoopman pointed out that Petersen would have the power to revoke any sign permit if an issue arises.

Downtown merchant Billie Smith said side-street businesses are in agreement to share the corner space, and said the merchants are limited in what property they have available to place signs. Smith owns a candy business on Second Street, and she said the building's owner is fine with the sign being in front of the building on the corner.

However, some city officials worry that opening up the street corners for advertising signs could cause problems down the road for the city of Powell.

“If you open it up for one, you open it up for everybody, and that's my concern,” said Scott Kath, assistant city attorney.

As legal counsel for the city, Kath said “the cleanest, safest thing to do would be to say, ‘No signs on city property.'”

It's not an anti-business attitude, he said, but rather, if there aren't signs on city property, “then you don't have the potential for any problem.”

Downtown merchant Marcia Martin asked whether there had been any problems so far with sandwich-board style signs.

Sides said there hasn't been at this time, “but we have to look at possible future situations.”

Business owner Dan Hadden asked the commission if existing sidewalk signs could be grandfathered in. Currently, downtown signs are issued temporary, revokable permits.

“My position is that they were illegal to begin with, so how do you grandfather in something that's illegal?” Kath replied.

Hadden said the signs are there simply helping local businesses in a tough economy.

Commissioner John Campbell said Planning and Zoning members are working to “provide an opportunity for signs where there wasn't one before. We're not trying to impede businesses.”

Hal Dicks, who owns property in downtown Powell, presented a petition with 42 signatures of individuals who oppose any ban of signs on city property, except allowing appropriate restrictions.

“I don't think there have been any problems in the past,” Dicks said. “Everyone I talked to was supportive of (signs on sidewalks).”

Dicks asked the commission to consider creating a task force to look further into the issue.

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