Helena city and businesses clash over sign ordinance

HELENA — Several Helena businesses were surprised recently when they received a notice from the city asking them to adhere to the city’s temporary sign ordinances.

Adam George, owner of Screen printing, Embroidery and Alterations by George, had a banner outside his business year-round when he received the notice. He said he knew the city had an ordinance on signs, but it was never enforced.

“This is just a terrible time right now for them to start enforcing the ordinance,” he said. “We’ve been growing in this economy and we’re afraid without the signs people may not see us. We may stop growing.”

City Council member Cris Nelson said Helena has had a sign ordinance for years but has been lenient about enforcing it during the down economy.

“We’ve been kind of turning a blind eye with this economy,” she said. “We know businesses have been struggling, but now it has kind of gotten out of hand. Certain businesses are putting up more than they’re supposed to and it’s looking a little junky. It kind of lessons the value of the business when they have so many signs out.”

Under the current sign ordinance, businesses must apply for a permit for temporary signs. The signs can only be 32 square feet and banners can be put up four times a year for up to two weeks at a time.

At the City Council meeting Aug. 9 several business owners came forward with suggestions to change the ordinance.

Mayor Sonny Penhale decided to put together a committee of business owners to come up with ideas to revise the ordinance.

The committee is made up of five business owners, including George, and will report its suggestion at the City Council meeting Aug. 23.

“That’s what we always want, is input from the community,” Nelson said.

George said the committee will likely focus on revising the sign restrictions on both size and amount of time a sign is allowed to be posted.  He said he hopes the city and the business community can compromise on the sign issue so both can benefit.

“I’m just concerned about Helena,” he said. “Stores have been shutting down and we need all the sales tax we can get.”