Mayor brings common sense back to the table

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2007

Eight months of nothing.

That’s what it appears the Soldotna City Council may have accomplished with their proposed sign ordinance.

It started in August when City Manager Tom Boedeker announced the city was looking into a new sign code that would specifically regulate the size and height of signs, the positioning of signs in relation to property lines and the placement of free-standing signs near businesses.

Other issues would address what would happen with pre-existing signs that do not conform to the new code and in what state of repair signs must be maintained, he said.

The ordinance was presented in January and included changes to the freestanding sign code from a 35-foot to 20-foot height limit and a setback limitation of 20 feet from the back of the curb. Also included in the ordinance is a recommended amendment to the code that would require final approval of signs after they have been installed.

Boedeker said freestanding signs in the commercial district “must be brought into compliance by June 30, 2017,” if the council approves the new ordinance.

That’s 10 years to comply.

Even so, the reaction from Soldotna businesses didn’t take long. Most told the Soldotna City Council the new rules are unnecessary and costly.

“I encourage you to go around town and see just how this would impact people,” said Norm Blakeley, co-owner of Blakeley’s Auction Co.

“Look at the Trustworthy (hardware store) sign. It’s about nine feet from the curb,” he said.

“They just built a brand new building with a new sign that was about $20,000 or $30,000 and they would have to take it down and move it,” he said.

Blakely suggested grandfathering in the signs people already had and moving forward to address the new ones. He also pointed out that the city’s informational sign in front of city hall doesn’t meet the proposed criteria.

Does that mean taxpayers should have to pay to move the city’s sign?

We don’t think so. It doesn’t make any sense.

Person after person spoke up about the illogical consequences of the city’s proposed action -- citizens and business owners.

The council sat through four hearings, numerous complaints and still passed it in March.

But they weren’t counting on one thing: Mayor Dave Carey vetoed the vote last week.

Carey’s reason: “I feel it is not in the best interest of the economic reality of Soldotna.”

In other words, the businesses that do their share to support this community would have to use their income to cater to the code and save their cash for new signs -- expensive signs.

We’re not bashing the council’s work. We think it’s a good idea to put regulations out there. But why alienate those who give so much by not grandfathering them into the scheme?

A business’ sign is their calling card. It’s what enables us to find their services when we need them. Why make it harder? Soldotna is a city with a business district. These signs tell you that from the moment you enter the city -- from all directions.

There are better ways to solve the problems. Start by enforcing the current code. The fact that businesses not only have 10 years to make changes, they also may apply to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a seven-year extension practically defeats the purpose of the ordinance. Seventeen years to make changes? Why bother to enforce anything?

Why not start with how the signs look?. Does it need painting? Repair? To be torn down? Those are the eyesores the city needs to address, then we can look into making other changes.

“To me it’s a penalizing of these small businesses -- many of whom built this community,” said Alan Humphries, pastor of Soldotna Church of God.

We agree. These businesses -- and those throughout the Kenai Peninsula -- are the backbone of our communities. We should be working with them, not against them.

Soldotna’s council is taking steps to take care of its city, and there’s no fault in that. We simply recommend they reconsider the way they’re going about it before they sign off on anything.

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