HUDSON — Council is scheduled to vote on changes to the city’s sign regulations Tuesday, but work will continue on other components of the issue, including potential allowances for non-profits and religious groups to use A-Frame signs.
Community Development Director Greg Hannan said his staff had three meetings last spring and summer with merchants and other impacted groups to review regulations on window signs, A-Frame signs, and signage options for upper-level tenants. After the meetings, Hannan said his department crafted the following amendments to the sign regulations:
• Window Signage: The pre-existing standards only allowed permanent window signs if no building/wall sign was proposed. A business owner had to have a design review, a zoning certificate; and a multi-tiered criteria for window signs. The proposed amendment allows one-third of any window opening to be utilized for signage. The amendment does not distinguish between permanent and temporary and no longer requires a permit for such signage. Merchants will also be able to install window signs in addition to building or wall signs;
• A-frame Signs: The pre-existing standards do not permit A-frame signs in the city. The proposed amendments would permit A-frame signs to be placed next to a merchant’s building;
• Projecting Signs: The pre-existing standards only allow projecting signs for first-floor tenants with at least 12 feet of street frontage. The proposed amendment will remove the 12-foot minimum width, allowing any first-floor access, such as a mandoor leading to upper level tenants, to have a projecting sign.
• Ground Signs: The pre-existing standards permit one permanent ground sign per 500 feet of street frontage. This standard would be revised to 300 feet of street frontage to provide more signage opportunities for businesses on larger lots.
Council member Kate Schlademan (Ward 1) on Feb. 18 read letters from merchants about the proposed changes. The one written by Kendra Altomare, president of the Merchants of Hudson Association and co-owner of Hudson’s Restaurant, stated, "We as merchants are still not in favor of all the proposed new sign changes … it’s almost impossible to force every business to abide by the very specific proposed rules."
One proposal would require businesses to display their A-Frame signs within 2 feet of the building wall.
Due to this restriction, the location of the sign "will fail to capture the potential customer at the other end of Main Street … now there is no way that we will entice the customer unless they walk directly in front of our building," Altomare wrote.
She also wrote the restriction would hinder businesses’ ability to use an A-Frame sign to advertise themselves in areas that are not frequented by pedestrians.
Altomare wrote that imposing the same coverage restriction on side windows and front windows "does not make sense."
"If we can’t market our business, we won’t survive," wrote Altomare.
Lisa Carson, owner of Gwendolyn Elizabeth, wrote to the city as it was beginning to review the sign regulations last year. Schlademan read portions of Carson’s letter.
"Why aren’t we just letting businesses regulate themselves?" asked Carson. "…I can’t predict what will help one business over another. … As far as safety, there is as much of an argument for people to not see into the businesses as there is for police officers to see in … trying to manage that concern with regulations on window signage doesn’t prevent any business from closing their drapes or blinds."
Hannan at the Feb. 25 council workshop said he and his staff had walked along Main Street earlier that day to assess the A-Frame sign issue.
Hannan said "we did see some logic in" potentially allowing A-Frame signs up to 10 feet away from a building, but council members said they did not favor doing that.
Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said he felt such a scenario would raise safety issues because pedestrians could end up walking in a zig-zag pattern as they avoided A-Frame signs that could be anywhere within 10 feet of the building.
Hannan noted the proposed regulations would require businesses to maintain at least a 5-foot wide clearance along the sidewalk.
Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) said he would’ve "rather seen A-Frames eliminated. I will reluctantly concede to the [provision that the signs must be within 2 feet of the building]. I do not like the idea of the 10-foot."
Schlademan said she felt that the requirement should be that the signs have to be either right next to the building or all the way out to the curb and not in between.
Hannan said the planning commission in January recommended approval of the amendments with the "request that staff reach out to non-residential uses within residential districts that have historically utilized A-Frame Signs."
Council members discussed the fact that there are churches who sometimes use A-Frame signs to advertise events such as Fish Fry meals during Lent. The new regulations, as proposed, would not allow non-profits or churches to have these A-Frame signs. Wooldredge said he felt citizens would like to see A-Frame signs allowed on a temporary basis at these organizations’ facilities.
Hannan said he and his staff would investigate the issue and report back to council at a later date. He said one of the challenges will be figuring out whether A-Frame signs can be located somewhere else on an organization’s property instead of right next to its building.
City Manager Jane Howington noted she felt the administration could "take a pause" on preventing churches and non-profits from using A-Frame signs while staff works out a solution with those organizations.
In the meantime, council members agreed that they would like to go ahead and vote on the changes that have already been vetted.
Last year, the city sent letters to four businesses saying that window clings being used by the companies violated the sign code regulations and requested they remove the clings or face penalties.
Roberts said the city received a lot of calls from concerned merchants after they heard from a business owner who received the violation letter. This led to Howington recommending a moratorium on enforcing non-residential window sign regulations so the administration could meet with merchants to discuss the issues. The moratorium lasted until Dec. 31, 2019, but was extended by three more months to give the three new council members time to learn about the issue.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.