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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Signs! – Signs! – Signs! A Little Relief for Marianna Businesses?

City Commission rewrites some parts of sign ordinance.

By Sid Riley

On Monday afternoon the Marianna City Commission met in a special session for the express purpose of revising sections of the existing sign ordinance which have been identified as problematic in previous workshop sessions with local business owners. A representative number of local business owners were in attendance.

The city staff led by City Manager Jim Dean and City Attorney Frank Bondurant had prepared a worksheet for the meeting, listing the sections of the sign code which needed review, along with suggested options for the Board to take. Mayor Roger Clay and Dean used this listing to organize the meeting, addressing each item in the order they were listed on the worksheet.

Significant progress was made!

Some of the more notable changes which were addressed and approved during the session were:

● Bandit Signs (small temporary signs usually stuck in ground for promotion of special events)….Non Profit, 501C3 organizations can use bandit signs for a period of five days, once per quarter. Removed wording designating location of signs and specifics on the removal of the signs. However, removal remains the responsibility of the organization which put the signs into use.

● Banners, streamers, balloons, etc. for special sales and events can be used once per quarter, for sixteen days, (was previously five days).

● Directional bandit signs (small temporary signs usually stuck in ground to help lead potential customers to a location)…Approved use of these directional signs by churches on days events are conducted. Disapproved use of these directional signs for real estate sale purposes.

● Main Street Signs (Signs used by businesses in the designated ‘Main Street’ area of Marianna.)…. Changed the allowable length of a store front sign on a building from 50% of the total frontage length to 75% of the frontage length.

● Kept limit of two lines of script on a building sign.

● Discussed the need for reducing the area defined as “Main Street” to the immediate downtown area, while leaving the defined “Special Treatment Area” as it is currently designated. This will reduce sign restrictions for several businesses on the fringe of the existing defined area.

● Residential Area Signs (Signs in areas zoned as residential)…. Changed allowable size of free standing signs from 24 sq. ft. to 32 sq. ft.. Changed allowable height from 8 ft. to 11 ft..

● Public/Institutional and Recreation Signs (Government signs)…. Changed allowable size from 24 sq. ft. to 32 sq. ft.. Changed allowable height from ten ft. to eleven ft..

● Mixed Use Signs (Business signs in areas zoned “mixed use”, residential and commercial.)… This issue addresses the complaints from businesses on the West end of Marianna on Lafayette in the area including Zaxby’s. The zoning for the north side of Lafayette is ‘Commercial’, while on the south side of the street the zoning is ‘mixed use’. As a result, the businesses on the south side have stricter sign limitations. The Commission discussed this matter and finally agreed that instead of modifying the sign ordinances for ‘mixed use’ areas, it would be better to change the zoning for the area in discussion. This will be an agenda item at the next meeting.

● Billboards (Large, freestanding, off premises signs) … The ordinance as rewritten will eliminate all billboards in the city limits after December 31, 2015.

● General Items Agreed to principle that when a business violates a sign code due to misunderstanding or error it does not constitute a reason for requesting a variance to the sign codes.

The meeting was sparked with discussion as most of these issues were addressed during the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting Commissioner Jim Wise stated “I am against any ordinance which will in any way hurt a Marianna business. We need to lessen government interference, and work to help our local businesses.” That remark generated applause from the audience.

At one point local environmental advocate, Chad Taylor, questioned the need for the proceedings. “We have a main street board, why aren’t we using them in this process?” Commissioner Paul Donofro responded that the commission had issued a ruling on the sign issues, and had recommended the ordinance remain as written. “Then why aren’t we following their advice?’ questioned Taylor. Someone in the audience responded, “Because they were not looking after the interest of the business community”.

When the billboard issue was discussed, local businessman, Lucien Watson Jr., owner of Watson Pharmacy and Watson Jewelers stated that he felt the billboards were a very effective source of advertising for his operations, and to remove them would hurt his business. Businessman Jim Harkins, Jr. spoke out in protest of allowing Domino’s Pizza to advertise off-premises in the show window of a downtown empty store front, which should be in the same classification as a billboard.

Finally the meeting ended after almost two hours of discussion and action. In general, most attendees felt progress was made, and that the Commission had made an effort to respond to the needs of the city business community.

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