Anchorage Assembly approves new sign rules

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The Anchorage Assembly, after years of debate, has approved new sign rules in an effort to enhance the natural beauty of the city.

The Assembly Tuesday night unanimously approved new rules spelling out what is required as far as height, number, color and type of sign allowed throughout the municipality.

Local businesses will have 10 years to comply with the new rules.

Approval of the new sign code, and the interval allowed for signs to come into compliance, ushers in restrictions that tighten the city's current rules. Alaska has essentially outlawed billboards statewide, but municipal businesses, under the law replaced by Tuesday night's action, were allowed commercial signs of any size and as tall as 45 feet.

The new ordinance lowers the maximum allowable height from 45 to 25 feet.

The Assembly had considered giving existing businesses seven years to comply, but Assemblywoman Anna Fairclough and other Assembly members argued that wasn't long enough, given the expense of replacing signs.

Fairclough proposed two amendments that would have increased that timeline to 15 and 12 years, respectively. Both amendments failed. She ultimately proposed a 10-year timeline, which the Assembly approved in a 7-3 vote. Assembly members Dick Tremaine, Doug Van Etten and Janice Shamberg voted no.

''For a lot of small businesses out there, it's going to be a big deal,'' said Assemblyman Dan Sullivan, who represents west Anchorage. ''We need to be respectful to the folks that run this economy, that live in this town, that are the backbone of this community, and that's the small-business owner.''

Mayor Mark Begich said his administration supported the 10-year window.

Supporters of a stricter sign code have said towering, loud signs take away from both Anchorage's urban and natural landscape.

But critics argue that some big signs have historical value and give the town character. Others, testifying before the Assembly at a meeting last week, said that they have invested tens of thousands of dollars in their existing signs.

A committee tried for months to develop a proposal for new rules. That effort faltered. So the city a year ago hired national consultants from Ohio to draft a plan. After local meetings to write a new ordinance, the consultants submitted their proposals in January.

The Planning and Zoning Commission, led by commissioner and business owner Dan Coffey, made further major changes to the draft, working over three meetings and inviting others to participate. Those changes made sign rules less restrictive in business districts and stricter in neighborhoods. Smaller businesses in nonbusiness districts will be allowed to use electronic signs to attract customers.

The new law also says:

Sign poles must be different widths, depending on their height.

The size of signs would depend on the street frontage of a business, with 250 square feet as the maximum size.

Businesses on small lots could have one sign, and those on large lots could have up to two.

Flashing, blinking, rotating and inflatable signs, roof signs and billboards would be against the law.

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