Columbiana merchants give input on sign ordinance amendment

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The Planning and Zoning Commission appeared willing Thursday night to eventually recommend amending the city’s sign ordinance to allow businesses to display advertising banners.

The commission did not vote on the matter after listening to input from local business owners in an hour-long public hearing at City Hall.

The commission chairman, Dee McDaniel, said the commission would consider the amendment for up to another two months before voting whether or not to send it to the Columbiana City Council.

The extra time is needed because the commission is considering amending the ordinance to address other forms of temporary signage, including A-frame signs, washboard signs and shingle signs.

A draft of the proposed amendment distributed at the public hearing dealt only with banners and could change before a vote, based on input from the public hearing.

According to the draft amendment, business owners could display banners for up to 10 consecutive days per quarter, or 40 days total per year. A permit would be required before a banner could be displayed. Banners could be up to 32 square feet.

The draft amendment allows for non-profit charitable or civic organizations to temporarily display a banner on a business owner’s property.

The banners would have to be professionally printed and couldn’t be attached to any utility poles, trees, rocks or other such objects located on public or private property. Third party banners “such as Coca Cola and Pepsi style banners” would be prohibited.

Hilry King, the city’s public works director, wrote the proposed amendment. Lisa Lively, the city’s ordinance enforcement officer, researched the issue for the city by reading sign ordinances from cities across the country, including one to two from each state.

During the hearing, all seven members of the commission, including Mayor Allan Lowe and Councilman Jim Strickland, said they support amending the sign ordinance to address banners.

City Councilman Stancil Handley attended the meeting as a business owner. The Main Street optometrist said he supports the amendment but wants it to address A-frames, washboards and shingles.

Andrew and Dianne Moore, owners of the Columbiana Inn, said banners wouldn’t be wise investments for most city merchants.

Andrew Moore said it would cost $450-600 per year to buy four banners. He said the cost isn’t worth it if they can only be displayed for 10 days per quarter. Either way, Dianne Moore added, something needs to be done because customers have a hard time locating their business.

Mark Frey, the manager of Go Wireless, said A-frames would be a great way to advertise. He said businesses should be able to display them year-round.

If the city does allow A-frames for any period of time, it would have to set guidelines. Main Street business owners would display them on the sidewalks.

Lively consulted with 12 other cities for A-frame guidelines, and all required clearance of at least 4 feet between the A-frame and the edge of the sidewalk, she said. Most cities allow A-frames every 75 feet and charged an average of $25-$35 a year for display permits, she said.

The Columbiana Merchants and Professionals Association has pushed to amend the sign ordinance for several years, calling the city’s current ordinance too strict.

“It’s coming to a culmination and it’s seeing to the light of day,” Strickland said, “but there’s no guarantee that it’s going to change.”

Strickland said the city adopted its current sign ordinance in 2002 after temporary signage got out of hand in the late 1990s. Citizens and merchants asked the city to police the signage and clean up the clutter, he said.

The business professionals at the public hearing, and the majority of the city’s merchants, are civic-minded people who wouldn’t abuse any amendment to the ordinance, Strickland said. However, he added, the amendment must be drafted to handle worst-case abuse scenarios.

Commission chairman McDaniel said commissioners should ultimately vote for what’s in the city’s best interest.

“How is our city going to look?” he asked.