Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 1:45 PM on Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Planning commission forwards sign code to council

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

After two public hearings and months of review, the Homer Advisory Planning Commission last week approved recommending an overhaul of the Homer sign code. On a 5-to-2 vote, the planning commission sent the proposed changes to the Homer City Council. The council has the final say on the revisions, and can approve, amend or reject the changes. The council also can send the proposed ordinance back to the planning commission for more work.

The version considered at the planning commission's Oct. 19 meeting differed slightly from an earlier draft. The main changes were in the definition of banners and what kinds of vehicles were allowed signs.

The recommended revisions have these main changes:

• Banner signs would be defined as signs on flexible materials, such as canvas, not tacked down at all corners, and suspended by rope at each corner.

• Banner signs would be prohibited.

• Signs made of flexible material tacked down would not be considered banners, and the square footage of such a sign would count as part of a business' allowed signage.

• Mobile billboards would be banned, such as trailers or vans that have been parked at the top of Baycrest Hill advertising Spit or downtown businesses.

• Signs or logos on vehicles used as part of regular business would be allowed and not count towards the signage allowance.

• Temporary signs such as sandwich boards would be prohibited for commercial advertising. They would still be allowed for civic functions, for sale or rent signs and garage sale signs.

• Boardwalks such as Cannery Row or Bear Country Boardwalk on the Spit would no longer have a maximum amount of signage set per lot. The revision would set a signage limit by the building.

• Electoral signs would have a maximum size of 16 square feet.

• Businesses cited for a sign code violation would have seven days to appeal to the planning commission instead of the current 30 days. If the commission denied an appeal, the next recourse would be Superior Court, not the Homer City Council acting as the Board of Adjustment, as is now allowed. The commission would have to consider an appeal within 60 days after the record of appeal was prepared.

In a second public hearing at last week's planning commission meeting, most of the opposition to the revised ordinance came from business owners who protested banning sandwich board signs.

"It brings people in the door," said Nancy Deaver, owner of Sweet Berries Cafe in the Mercantile Building next to NOMAR on Pioneer Avenue. "I don't think there's a problem with them with the year-round businesses."

Bob Carpenter, co-owner of A Magic Touch Massage in the Hillas Building on Pioneer Avenue, also spoke in favor of sandwich board signs, like the one he put up near the sidewalk. The sign has brought in business, he said.

"I'm frustrated with the basis of this," he said. "We took the time to make sure our sign was tasteful and not something that was tacky."

Dan Coe, a sign painter, questioned if it was legal to prohibit sandwich board signs for businesses while allowing them for civic functions.

"I understand the nature and necessity of sign ordinances and compliance," Coe said. "You've got to allow all of them or none."

Adrienne Sweeney, owner of the Driftwood Inn and RV Park and AJ's Old Town Steakhouse & Tavern, said she put up off-premise, sandwich-board signs at the corner of Ohlson Lane and the Sterling Highway after the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities took away the tourist-oriented sign for the Driftwood Inn at Main Street and the Sterling Highway. When DOTPF took down that sign, the Driftwood Inn lost walk-in business, she said. A sign that reads "Historic Old Town" is now at that corner. Sweeney said the city confiscated the off-premise signs and she had to pay a fine to get them back.

Deaver said she uses a sandwich board sign at the edge of the NOMAR lot because she can only have one small sign on the Mercantile Building. As a tenant of NOMAR, she falls under the maximum sign allowance rules for the entire lot.

Commissioner Roberta Highland asked City Planner Rich Abboud if the sign revisions could help out Deaver. Because the NOMAR complex has several buildings on one lot, the revisions might allow greater sign footage. Abboud said he'd have to research that point.

In discussing a motion to approve the staff report and forward the ordinance to the city council, Highland asked Abboud if the Planning Department looked at the issue Sweeney raised of advertising for businesses off a main highway. Abboud noted that ordinances have to treat all property in a zoning district equally, so exceptions couldn't be made just because a business was off a highway.

Commissioner Tom Bos said he wanted to make sure the ordinance treated everybody equally.

"It's not like all of a sudden we're against new businesses, old businesses," he said. "You're either following the rules or you're not."

When he started as commissioner last summer, Franco Venuti said initially he thought the sign-code revisions were anti-business. Seeing the spread of sandwich boards in town and on the Spit changed his mind.

"Early this summer, when you drove through town you would see sandwich boards blocking the road," he said. "My concern was the safety issue."

Most of the people testifying agreed the signs shouldn't be in the right-of-way.

The commission discussed working on the ordinance more. Highland said she wondered if the commission could address some of the issues brought up, such as how to help businesses off the main highway. In the end, the commission decided it had done enough work. With commissioners Jennifer Sonneborn and Shelly Erickson voting no, it voted to send the ordinance to the council.

No date has been set for when the city council will consider the proposed sign ordinance. Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson said the city attorney will review the ordinance before Homer City Manager Walt Wrede brings it before the council.

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