Anchorage Assembly to consider stricter signs

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The Anchorage Assembly in coming weeks will take up an issue that could change the look of Alaska's largest city.

A move is underway to change Anchorage from a freewheeling, any-sign-goes town to something more attractive, but the change won't come easily.

The central question is how to balance what's fair for a business that needs to advertise and has invested perhaps tens of thousands of dollars in a sign against the desire to remove street-side clutter and beautify the city.

Anchorage's rules for commercial signs are among the loosest of any in the country for cities its size and larger, city consultant David Hartt of Cleveland, Ohio, has said.

Hartt and associate Alan Weinstein wrote the draft ordinance that's under consideration, after meetings with city officials and others.

Under the existing code, commercial signs can rise no higher than 45 feet. The proposed height limit is 25 feet. And the total area of a sign would be regulated for the first time.

Consultants said last year that 38 percent of 246 signs they checked were taller than the proposed limit.

Assembly members also will debate other sign features such as lighting and corporate flags.

An Anchorage Chamber of Commerce committee reviewed the proposal and objected. It said existing signs should be allowed to stay, in fairness to businesses that followed the current law.

''While some say 'Life's not fair,' it's also not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game,'' chamber board chairman George Vakalis wrote to the city Planning and Zoning Commission. The chamber board has not taken a final position yet, though, he said.

John Todd, president of Glacier Sign and Lighting, said, ''I just don't feel that's right'' to require people to replace signs that went in legally.

Assemblyman Allan Tesche says businesses have a right to a reasonable financial return on their sign investments but that's all. Signs that don't fit under the new law should be taken down soon to make the city more attractive and improve the quality of life, he said.

''Please find out the shortest legally defensible amortization (grace) period,'' Tesche asked city officials at an Assembly work session.

The 10 years proposed in the draft sign ordinance is too long, he said.

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Dan Coffey, whose business features a prominent sign on Northern Lights Boulevard, takes a different approach. For commercial signs, he would eliminate attempts to regulate anything but size, height and location. Existing signs that don't meet the terms would have to be redone within seven years.

Coffey says the current proposal goes too far. He would severely restrict signs in neighborhoods, disallowing illuminated signs, for example. But he would streamline business sign rules, focusing on the few provisions that he thinks matter most in getting rid of visual clutter.

His suggestions: keep the proposed 25-foot height limit for commercial signs and require that the poles be covered with a more attractive structure; keep proposed rules regulating the size of the signs themselves; and keep rules about how far the signs must be from the street.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will make recommendations to the Assembly. It will take up Coffey's proposals July 7.

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