Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 1:08 PM on Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sign ordinance revisions don't hurt businesses


At a public hearing set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall, the Homer Advisory Planning Commission once again will listen to citizens testify about proposed revisions to the Homer sign ordinance. If testimony is anything like the first public hearing in September, some businesses will complain that the current code and proposed revisions are anti-business.

They're wrong.

Homer's sign code works, and the revisions suggested by the Planning Department make it even better. What the sign code does right is create uniform guidelines for all businesses that strike a compromise between garish, extravagant signs and the ability to advertise a company's products and services. What happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas — including gaudy signs.

A lot of objections to the sign code revisions come from the prohibition of sandwich board and temporary signs for businesses. Planning commission chair Sharon Minsch is right when she says some people objecting to the revisions "haven't bothered to get permits, don't know what the rules are and don't care about it."

Under the current code, businesses in some zoning districts can get permits for sandwich boards, but when the Homer News asked a few who had them up, they said they hadn't gotten permits. You can still put up a sandwich board for a limited time — 14 days in a 90-day period — but it's clear a lot of businesses in town and on the Homer Spit have figured out the zoning enforcement officer doesn't have time to keep track.

Sandwich boards are flat out prohibited in road rights of way. That doesn't mean off the sidewalk — it means well away from the sidewalk. Rights of way vary, particularly on the Spit, but it doesn't take a surveyor to figure out that a sign on the edge of the road or blocking the view at an intersection is a safety hazard.

It's the abuse of the sandwich board rules that led the planning department to recommend prohibiting them outright. Except for civic functions — for example, the Share the Spirit Spaghetti Feed sign by the Homer Elks Lodge would be OK — commercial advertising on sandwich boards would be banned.

We understand the frustration of small and new businesses trying to stand out in a challenging economy. Breaking the sign code might bring results, but it takes an unfair advantage over those who follow the rules. Of course it works — your neighbors aren't scofflaws and so your sign stands out. Those businesses who follow the rules should tell the planning commission not to reward the rule breakers.

Besides, the revision in one way makes the law better for businesses, particularly those on boardwalks on the Spit. Boardwalks are usually one lot, and the current code sets a signage restriction by the lot. City Planner Rick Abboud said he can't issue sign permits to single boardwalk buildings. If a lot has 10 shops, technically they'd have to split the 150-square-feet maximum signage allowed. The suggested revisions would loosen up that code and determine signage on a per building basis. The revision also would apply to multiple-building complexes in town.

That's helping, not hurting, businesses.

That's the spirit of the sign code and the revisions. It treats businesses the same whether a summer shop on the Spit, a new business on Pioneer Avenue or a long-established enterprise. The sign code lets businesses advertise their location without sacrificing the reason people visit and settle in Homer: the beauty of our natural setting and our town.

Yes, business can be hard, yes, it can be tough, but if we're creative, offer a good product and work together without taking unfair advantages, we'll all succeed.