Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:34 PM on Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sandwich boards win council's OK

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

In a move backed by newly elected Homer City Council member Beauregard Burgess, the Homer City Council passed changes to the city sign code that included a last-minute change allowing temporary signs, including sandwich board signs, to be up year-round.

However, that decision may not stand. Council member Francie Roberts called for reconsideration on Wednesday. The council will consider the motion to reconsider at its next meeting, and if it is put back on the agenda, could reverse the amendment.

On Monday, council member David Lewis made an amendment striking current restrictions allowing temporary signs to be up 14 days in a 90-day period. With Burgess and Council member Bryan Zak voting with Lewis, and council members Beth Wythe, Francie Roberts and Barbara Howard voting no, Mayor James Hornaday had to break the tie.

"Beauregard, you've done this to me on your first night," Hornaday said, expressing his reluctance to break tie votes.

He voted yes.

The Homer Advisory Planning Commission and the Economic Development Commission had made recommendations last month to an earlier version considered by the council. The first draft proposed banning commercial temporary signs outright.

About a dozen small business owners had protested the ban on sandwich board signs, saying that in a recovering economy they needed every advertising advantage they could get.

The council sent the proposed ordinance back to the commissions. They both proposed keeping the 14 days in a 90-day period regulation, with the suggestion that temporary signs would require a permit and that the 90-day period follow the Kenai Peninsula Borough sales tax reporting quarters.

The substituted ordinance came back before the council on Monday night for a final public hearing. Several business owners again protested the 14-day in a 90-day period limit.

"I believe that the planning and zoning commission once again missed an opportunity to make this ordinance more business friendly," said Adrienne Sweeney, owner of the Driftwood Inn and AJ's Old Town Steakhouse.

Sweeney said that 90 days "is our summer." Deciding which 14 days to put out a sign would be difficult to plan, especially for special events, she said.

Another small business owner, Jackie Denz, who owns Crabbie's Restaurant in the Kachemak Center, said she had recently visited Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and saw sandwich board signs used tastefully there. She suggested the city sell sandwich board advertising to make money.

"I think you ought to bite the bullet and realize businesses ought to have signage to bring customers into their businesses," Denz said.

When Council member Barbara Howard asked Sweeney how many days other than 14 she wanted, Sweeney said, "I believe businesses should be able to have the signs 365 days out of the year on my property as long as they're safe and out of the right of way."

Lewis' amendment allowed for that 365 days.

Council member Francie Roberts spoke against Lewis' amendment.

"We've sent it to the planning commission twice," she said. "We've spoken. I think it was over a year ago we had this meeting. We all discussed at this council that we didn't want to see sandwich board signs. We've discussed it thoroughly."

Sweeney said she was grateful that the new sign code would allow her to notice daily specials and live music "in a tasteful and safe manner 365 days out of the year."

Homer Advisory Planning Commission Chair Sharon Minsch, who had opposed sandwich board signs, acknowledged the commission's role in making recommendations and the council's power to accept or modify those recommendations.

"The city council is elected to make policy decisions," she said. "They made a policy decision."

While the sign ordinance has been loosened, "the public needs to realize there are still rules," Minsch said. "I believe we have a good ordinance that keeps the town looking nice."

Although the time limit was liberalized, other restrictions remain or were added. A section of the new ordinance prohibits changeable copy, such as removable lettering, on temporary signs. Another section limits temporary signs to one per lot.

That limit was in contrast to another major change to the sign ordinance. Previously, square-foot signage limits applied to the lot. In cases such as several Homer Spit boardwalks or downtown multiunit complexes, such as the Hillas Building on Pioneer Avenue, some business owners found they could not get sign permits because the limit had been exceeded. The new law allows square foot signage limits to be calculated by the building or unit. Businesses would still have square-footage limits, but they would not be as Draconian as the per-lot limit.

The ordinance changes takes effect May 1. City Planner Rick Abboud said he plans to send out notices to businesses as well as schedule workshops explaining the new rules.

In other action, the council passed revisions to how special assessment districts are created. That ordinance would make it easier to create and finance assessment districts for utilities like a natural gas distribution system.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.