Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:04 PM on Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Once more with feeling: will the signs be a' changin?

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

This sandwich board sign at a Lake Street mall would be limited by a one-sign-per-lot and total signage square-foot restrictions even if the ordinance stands.

As legendary baseball manager Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over 'til it's over." That Yogism holds as true for Homer City Council actions as it does for baseball games.

Last week, after it appeared the council had finally finished with a controversial ordinance that made revisions to the city's sign code, council member Francie Roberts filed for reconsideration.

Although Mayor James Hornaday voted in favor on a 3-3 tie on an amendment by council member David Lewis to the sign code that allowed having sandwich board signs up year round, the council approved without objection the entire ordinance. Because Roberts was on the prevailing side, under council rules she could ask for reconsideration.

The council will vote Monday on Roberts' motion. It has these options:

• Vote down the motion for reconsideration. If that happens, the ordinance would stand as amended.

• Approve the motion for reconsideration. If that happens, the council could amend or change the original ordinance, including reversing Lewis' amendment.

The Homer Advisory Planning Commission had worked on revisions to the sign code for almost two years. In January, after some business owners protested an earlier draft that proposed banning temporary or sandwich board signs, the council sent the draft back to the planning commission and the Economic Development Commission for more work.

The commissions left the current rule that allowed sandwich board signs for 14 days in a 90-day period, but added a provision requiring a permit.

Roberts said she asked for reconsideration because of the commissions' work.

Sign Ordinance At A Glance

Temporary signs or sandwich board signs:

• Temporary signs allowed in some zoning districts within allowed square footage

• Permit required

• Commercial signs OK

• For sale or lease

signs OK

• One sign per lot

• Cannot be in public right of way

• Political signs and

civic event signs OK

• Signs have to be removed within

7 days of event

• Sign may not be illuminated, animated or changeable copy sign

• Sign may not be more than


• Temporary sale of household goods OK

• Can be displayed year round (amended from 14 days in 90-day period restriction)

Signs on multiple buildings on one lot:

• Sign allowance based on size of building

• Banners must be attached to a rigid structure along its entire circumference

• Banner would count as part of square footage permitted for business

Signs on trailers or motor vehicles

• Prohibited if displayed on parked trailer or vehicle where the primary purpose of the vehicle is advertising

• Logos, identification and advertising are allowed on vehicles primarily used for business or personal transportation

"This was a last-minute change to the sign ordinance," Roberts said of Lewis' amendment. "The city council needs to reconsider whether or not this was an impulse decision."

Even if the ordinance stands and sandwich boards are allowed year-round, restrictions still would apply. Sandwich board signs cannot be put in rights-of-way, including on sidewalks or between sidewalks and streets.

Sandwich boards also are limited to one per lot. That limit is 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, 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.

Lewis' amendment also left in a provision that sandwich boards require a permit. The square footage of a temporary sign, up to 16-square-feet, would have to be part of a lot's overall sign allowance.

A drive around Homer shows that many sandwich board signs already up would not be allowed even under the revised law, or at least stretch the limits. A café sign next to a stop sign at Main Street and Bunnell Avenue is probably in the right of way. A sign on the lawn between the sidewalk and the curb on Pioneer Avenue near an espresso café is in the right of way. Another café sign on Pioneer Avenue is near the sidewalk. A sandwich board sign next to a cluster of signs on the Sterling Highway and Ohlson Lane might not be within the total sign allowance for the lot. A fish peddler's sign a mile from his truck by the Lake Street stoplight also might violate state laws prohibiting off-premise signs.

Julie Engebretsen, a planning technician, cautions that city and state road rights-of-way vary from 60 to 100 feet or greater. The center of the road also might not be on the center of the right-of-way, too.

Some limits are clear, though.

"If you're on the sidewalk or your part of the board is touching the street, you're not on your property," Engebretsen said.

Planning commissioner Roberta Highland said she was disappointed in the liberalization of the sandwich board limits. The original intent of the 1985 law was for temporary signs to advertise special events like art openings, short-term sales and business openings, she said. Temporary signs blow down and can obstruct views if in rights-of-way.

"If we allow every business to have them it could turn into, I don't know, it could become a rather cluttered look," Highland said.

A public hearing was held on the ordinance at the April 6 meeting. The council meets at 6 p.m. Monday in the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall. Citizens can speak during the "matters already on the agenda" portion of the meeting at the start of the meeting before the reconsideration vote.

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