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Relaxed sign rules get initial approval

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GREENFIELD — Rules will be relaxed on signs ranging from electronic message boards to political yard placards under a revised ordinance now before the Greenfield City Council.

Changes to the sign ordinance were almost a year in the making and were a campaign promise of Mayor Dick Pasco.

In 2010, rules were tightened, but Pasco said along the campaign trail that the city shouldn’t be so strict on how often electronic messages should change or whether free-standing signs can promote sales in stores. A committee of city officials and private business owners delved into the ordinance, and Wednesday Planning Director Joanie Fitzwater presented newly relaxed rules.

“There’s no harm in doing a sanity check to make sure we did things correctly,” Fitzwater said.

The council gave preliminary approval to the ordinance, and a second reading and public hearing is set for Feb. 13.

Under the new rules, electronic message signs could display a new message every one minute, as opposed to every five. Fitzwater said businesses were reluctant to invest in expensive electronic message signs if they weren’t allowed to use them to their maximum capability. The new rules would also allow for colored backgrounds on electronic signs.

Free-standing signs would be allowed for sales and events at businesses, but only one may be displayed at a time. Businesses would have to get a permit up to four times a year for such signs. Currently, free-standing signs are only allowed for grand openings and must be attached to buildings.

Fitzwater said that’s one area she is hesitant about, because there must be a balance of being business-friendly but making sure the city doesn’t look cluttered with temporary signs.

If the new rule is passed, she said her office will monitor whether temporary signs are making the city look cluttered, and another change could be proposed down the road.

“It’s always good to review your work and I agree with the mayor that we should be business-friendly,” Fitzwater said. “I am unsure at this point if we get a proliferation of those free-standing signs if I will like the way it looks coming down Ind. 9, but at the same time as long as we’re helping businesses keep open, I’m happy.”

Pasco said he’s pleased with the proposed changes because it gives local businesses more options.

When it comes to potential clutter, Pasco said most business owners have “common sense and good taste.”

“I wanted the city to be a better partner to our business community, and this will be one of the first steps to help with the endeavor,” he said.

Rules on political yard signs would be relaxed, partly to keep up with the trend of increased early voting. Signs displaying a candidate’s name or issue can be put up 45 days prior to Election Day, whereas before the limit was 30 days.

Opinion signs may also be larger. Currently a permit is required for signs over 9 square feet, but the new rules would take away the permit requirement and make the maximum size 32 square feet.

One area that would become stricter under the new rules deals with garage sale signs. Fitzwater said signs promoting garage sales would not be allowed in public right-of-way, light poles or the inner circles of roundabouts. There are also time and size constraints on the signs, whereas right now the city’s sign ordinance has no restrictions on garage sale promotions.

The council was receptive to the proposed changes. Councilman Jason Horning said he thought the rules that were passed in 2010 were too restrictive, especially concerning electronic message boards. School message boards, for example, are restricted on the information that can be given to parents with the rule that messages can only change every five minutes.

Horning said he’d like public feedback on the proposed new rules, but so far he is pleased. Free-standing signs, he said, should be allowed more frequently for businesses to promote their stores.

“I don’t want the town to look junky, but at the same time I want it to be business-friendly,” Horning said. “You want businesses to promote sales, get customers in the door.”

Council President John Patton said he still wants time to look over the ordinance, which is more than 50 pages long. He said it’s been “thoughtfully put together” but he also wants to make sure the changes don’t lead to clutter or other problems.

“The question I think we’ll be asking is, ‘Are there unintended consequences coming from the changes?’” Patton said. “So we’ll look at the individual changes and go from there.”

Fitzwater said if the new rules are approved, she would work to let businesses know of the changes. She said people may also call her office with questions.

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