Sign rules scrutinized by planners

The Sweet Home Planning Commission looked at the first draft of a revision of the city’s sign ordinances Monday evening.

The draft doesn’t radically change sign requirements, Community Development Director Carol Lewis said. “Right now, the majority of the changes you see in this draft would be cleanup and not much change in the codes themselves.”

The commission, along with the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort, is looking at ways to use the sign ordinance to improve the appearance of downtown Sweet Home. Over the past few months, members of both groups have taken virtual tours of other cities using Google Maps to look at examples they like and dislike.

Using the comments she heard from those meetings, Lewis began rewriting the ordinance in an attempt to match Sweet Home’s ordinance to what the commission and SHARE may want to see.

“One of the big purposes is to improve the visual appearance of our city,” Commissioner Henry Wolthuis said.

The draft proposal actually lifts some restrictions as Lewis follows an Oregon Supreme Court decision against the Oregon Department of Transportation that means cities cannot regulate signs based on content, that such regulation is a violation of free speech rights.

Those changes run counter to some comments during previous commission meetings where commissioners said they didn’t like all of the signs on some buildings advertising various products, from cigarettes to soda.

The ruling also means off-premise signs, in violation of current city ordinance, are allowable, Lewis said.

On the other hand, some rules will be more restrictive. Among the changes, Visa/Mastercard signs and similar service signs would not be allowed if the ordinance is approved. They would be required to be integrated into the overall sign design.

The draft adds rules for signs in residential areas, including subdivision signs.

Subdivisions such as Canyon Creek and Spring Terrace have monument-style signs at the entrance, she said. The draft will define rules for building them, allowing up to 32 square feet of actual sign at a maximum of five feet at the primary entrances to the subdivisions or multi-family development.

A number of areas still require discussion, Lewis said. Among them are questions about how signs projecting from a building are handled.

During their look at other cities, some attending the meetings did not like projecting signs. Lewis said that she had received one letter about the sign ordinance from a member of the general public noting that signs, many of which are flat, can be hard to see through downtown Sweet Home.

Although if all signs were required to be flat, flush with the building, it may actually make them more visible, Lewis said, because people will know where to look for them.

Other issues that remain unresolved are rules regarding marquee signs, obstructing other signs, A-frame signs and signs using guy wires.

The commission and Lewis are also trying to figure out how to handle temporary signs, such as the Oregon Jamboree banners, and the myriad signs that came with the merchants lining the streets during the event.

If this ordinance is passed, Lewis put in a placeholder date of Jan. 1, 2015 for all signs to comply with the ordinance.

The ordinance already had such a date in it, Jan. 1, 1990.

She said she was not aware that the current ordinance had such a date included in it.

If SHARE and the commission want to see changes, the changes won’t be visible with two new signs per year, she said. That means a date for changing existing signs is necessary. She chose a five-year deadline, an arbitrary date, in the draft. That number can change easily.

Signs are expensive for businesses, she said, and she wants their input on the ordinance and the deadline.

“This is a community conversation,” she said. “That’s not anything I would want to try to jam down anybody’s throat.”

She will return to the commission with revisions based on Monday night’s conversation at its regular meeting next month, Sept. 7. From there, she will create a new draft of the ordinance and begin a public involvement process involving local business owners, SHARE and citizens.

The exact framework of the public involvement remains undetermined. Even so, the Planning Commission meeting is open to the public and starts on 7:30 p.m. on the first Monday of the month.

For more information about the draft ordinance, Lewis may be reached at City Hall, 1140 12th Ave., or 367-8113.

Present at the meeting were commissioners Alan Culver, Wolthuis, Greg Stephens and Frank Javersak.

Absent were Chairman Dick Meyers, Lance Gatchell and Michael Adams.