HUDSON — City officials are working with merchants to update sign code regulations, addressing changes in the types of displays that now appear on merchants’ windows and determining how to handle A-frame signs, which currently are not allowed.
Those discussions are occurring after City Council recently approved a temporary moratorium on enforcing Land Development Code regulations for non-residential window signs until Dec. 31. The moratorium could end sooner if council decides to repeal it, according to the legislation.
Earlier this year, the city sent letters to four businesses saying the window clings being used violated the LDC and requested they remove the clings or face penalties. Jody Roberts, the city’s communications manager, said clings are photos or images some businesses affix to their windows, and said this type of signage did not exist when the city last updated its LDC.
"We regulate how much of your window can be a sign," said Roberts, who noted since the clings cover an entire window, "they are against our sign code."
Roberts said the city received numerous calls from concerned merchants after they heard from one of the business owners who received the violation letter. This led to City Manager Jane Howington recommending the moratorium on enforcement, which council unanimously passed April 2. Roberts emphasized that the businesses that received letters will not have to remove their window clings.
"Suddenly, we started enforcing the [LDC] on window clings and some people I believe had them in their windows for some extended period of time," Council member Dennis Hanink (Ward 1) said. "I don’t know what precipitated [the] sudden enforcement."
Hanink said he was "glad we’re taking the step to have a formal statement by council not to enforce this portion of the [LDC] as opposed to simply electing to ignore [it] for whatever reasons."
In contrast, Community Development Director Greg Hannan said the city has not enforced the municipality’s ban on A-frame signs.
Hannan said his staff has begun meeting with merchants to discuss all sign code issues, including both window clings and A-frames.
"[The issue] really needs to be looked [at] holistically," Hannan said. "There may be a key type of signage that’s really beneficial to the merchants and maybe that’s the focus that they would like to see."
City officials have, for more than a year, "held [off] on enforcing the A-frame signs while the LDC update is done," Hannan said.
The city is in the process of updating its LDC. A public hearing on the proposed changes to the LDC is scheduled at the council meeting on June 4.
Council member Dr. J. Daniel Williams (At Large) proposed amending the legislation to add a moratorium on enforcing the city’s A-Frame sign ban.
"Why don’t we just make it official [that] we’re not going to enforce those until [city staff] come(s) back to us and we look at the whole project?" Williams asked.
Council member Hal DeSaussure (At Large) said he felt it was "premature" to implement a moratorium on enforcing the ban on A-frame signs. The city’s potential revisions to the LDC could change the regulations on A-frame signs.
"If the [LDC] changes with the A-frame changes happen mid-year, we’re saying we have a new rule, but we’re not going to implement that new rule until the end of the year because we already passed the moratorium," DeSaussure said.
DeSaussure said if a deal hasn’t happened with the merchants on A-frame signs by mid-year, "then maybe we do a moratorium at that point."
Williams said if council passes a moratorium on enforcing non-residential uses of window signs, and then council later adopts a new regulation, "we have exactly the same situation" as the scenario DeSaussure described on A-frames.
Council president Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said, "I just think we’ve muddied the waters. Let’s just vote on this particular item right now and we can handle the A-frames later."
Though he said he did not agree with council members’ feedback, Williams decided to withdraw his motion.
Hannan said merchants are "not comfortable" with an initial proposal from the city regulating A-frames and want to have more discussion.
"That’s why staff and the planning commission acknowledged ‘let’s set that aside and look at the sign code holistically [and] engage the merchants collectively on their signage concerns,’" Hannan said.
Hannan said there is draft legislation regarding A-frame signs as part of the proposed changes to the LDC, but the planning commission has recommended removing the A-frame language from the potential LDC revisions. His staff will meet with merchants for a couple months, present findings to council, and "see how you might want to consider a council-led adjustment to the sign regulations."
Wooldredge said there may be a need for more discussion on A-frames, but added he felt that should occur "at the right time after the merchants have gotten through their discussions."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.