Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 9:30 PM on Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Planners seek sign from city

What should be done about Spit?

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Blocking out the scenery,

breaking my mind

Do this, don't do that,

can't you read the sign?

That Five Man Electrical Band's 1970 rock hit could have been the theme song for Monday night's meeting of the Homer Advisory Planning Commission and the city council.

Or it could be the theme song of the Homer Spit where compliance with the city code's section on signage seems to fall short.

"The planning commission is looking for some general guidance," said Rick Abboud, city planner, of the purpose for the joint meeting.

A report written by Dotti Harness-Foster, planning technician, and presented to the council "gives you a picture of some of the challenges we've got. It's pretty complicated," said Abboud, adding that no sign permits can be issued "because the whole boardwalk is out of compliance."

Among the challenges is the city code's maximum 150-square-foot of signage per lot. Four of the five boardwalks on the Spit occupy one lot each. One of those boardwalks includes 14 businesses, according to Harness-Foster. Complying with city code means those 14 businesses must somehow divide the 150-square foot sign limit.

Then there are the sandwich boards that crop up every summer as businesses extend their welcome to visitors on the southern peninsula. Some advertise tours. Some offer menus. Most are squeezed into the narrow space between store fronts and the edge of Spit Road, which not only puts the signs in state of Alaska right-of-way — Spit Road is a state of Alaska roadway — but places pedestrians at risk.

"For me, there's one nonnegotiable, sandwich board signs that force pedestrians out into the right-of-way," said council member Kevin Hogan. "That's a real problem. A safety problem."

Complying with city code signage requirements is the responsibility of property owners, which only adds to the confusion. In many cases, that isn't the same as the business owner and might not be the same as the owner of the building in which a business exists.

"(City) staff is encouraging us to come up with solutions, but we're saying we're not going to have everyone get pissed of with us without direction from the council," Sharon Minsch, chair of the advisory planning commission, told the council Monday night.

What it comes down to is deciding the role signs play, said Minsch.

"Instead of spending dollars on advertising, (businesses) are marketing with bigger and bigger signs. It's really going to be a bigger issue, particularly with more of the cruise ships coming and the economy not doing well and people getting more aggressive," she said.

Among considerations discussed by commission and council members were separate sign requirements for the Spit, for boardwalks with multiple businesses or for buildings housing more than one business; tying the square-footage sign limit to building size rather than per lot; separating requirements for attached versus non-attached signage; and enforcement of city code with regard to signage.

Enforcement would fall to the Homer Police Department, however increased arrests have left no time for local law enforcement to address sign violations, Chief Mark Robl wrote in a memo to Abboud. Robl suggested consideration of a code enforcement position. Wrede suggested deputizing Planning Department staff to issue violations.

"How firm do you want us to be on this?" Commissioner Franco Venuti asked the council. "We could easily be considered anti-business and open up all sorts of legal problems, but we'd need an 800-pound gorilla to go around and say, 'no, you can't do this.' That's the problem as I see it."

Consistency was the key for Tom Bos, vice chair of the commission.

"It's hard to understand exactly what to do, but if you're consistent, it's easier to do almost anything. I don't think we've been consistent on the Spit at all," said Bos. "Not where it comes to signage or a lot of other issues out there."

The result of inconsistency was illustrated by Minsch, who pointed to the spread of sandwich boards into Homer's downtown area, as well as residential neighborhoods.

While there was no clear direction from the council, Minsch said the discussion offered insights.

"I felt like they have a sense of the difficulty of the problem. They acknowledged that it's an issue that, given the economy and growing number of cruise ships, it's going to get worse," said Minsch. "When the commission meets, we'll continue to move forward and look for some more solutions as far as enforcement and coming up with something that's fair."

The city's sign code can be found online at www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/cityclerk/chapter-2160-sign-code

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.