Payson Council Reopens Debate On Sign Ordinance

Su Connell

Su Connell Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Once more into the breech, dear friends.

Last week the Payson Town Council might not have had King Henry V or Shakespeare to get them riled up: But they did vote to charge into the heart of a once-and-future controversy — its sign ordinance.

Payson’s effort to impose a restrained, resort-town standard on signs several years ago spurred repeated debates and bitter complaints by local merchants.

But like the Rim Country building industry, the sign ordinance debate has lingered in a coma since the onset of the recession in 2008.

But a peppering of complaints about the town’s restrictions on temporary signs out front of struggling businesses, renewed questions about building large, landscaped signs to advertise clusters of businesses and the development of new, eye-catching electronic signs have revived the issue.

Oh yeah: And the Arizona Legislature’s micromanaging again.

So the town council last Thursday directed the town’s planning staff to overhaul the ordinance, hoping to make the town more business friendly — without looking cluttered.

Most of the recent complaints and the council’s concerns involve an exemption for “temporary signs.” In theory, this covers signs businesses put out front to brag on special deals. Therefore, the current ordinance limits such sidewalk signs to six days.

In practice, many businesses use the temporary signs routinely to lure customers. So they put the sign out for six days, skip a day, and then put them out again.

Councilor Su Connell said she’d fielded complaints that the current policy doesn’t make much sense — and isn’t consistently applied.

“The policy seems to lack clarity between portable signs and temporary signs. And we’ve had discussions that the policies are not administered equitably across town. There’s the appearance of favoritism.”

Councilor Richard Croy said, “it seems kind of pointless to allow them six days instead of seven — and then you’ve got to police them. The fact they have to take them down one day out of the week seems like a waste of time.”

However, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said the town does need limits on the portable signs along sidewalks, parking lots and windows to avoid a tacky commercial clutter.

“If you let people plaster every window with big signs and bright colors, why bother to get a permit for a sign at all?” said Evans.

On the other hand, Councilor Fred Carpenter said he hopes that a revision of the sign ordinance won’t open the door to more billboards in the town limits. “I would like to not see any changes regarding billboards.”

However, Evans said the town should reconsider its position on things like large electronic signs, which have become all the rage for some businesses. The signs shift like a television screen, often shifting through pitches by different businesses in an eye-catching format.

“I worry about saying we’re not going to discuss something,” said Evans

He noted that two different organizations

are exploring using electronic signs — but that Payson has no control over either one. Reportedly, one involved the school district which is exempt from most town ordinances and the other is the Arizona Department of Transportation, which wants to put an electronic traffic condition sign on the highway that state rules would prevent any business from using for fear of distracting drivers.

Evans said, “We need to make sure that our code is consistent (with state law) and not wait until we have a problem like we do now.”

The council also briefly discussed how to make the town’s ordinance on political signs conform with a new state law. That law prohibits cities and towns from removing political signs from the public right of way during election season. Many towns, including Payson, have rules that limit political signs on public property that might block the view of drivers. Payson also requires prompt removal of political signs once the campaign ends.

“We have to make the ordinance consistent with what our highly skilled and intelligent legislators have decided is best for us,” said Evans dryly. “It’s just another effort by the Legislature to take control away from the locals.”

Councilor John Wilson recalled the months of hearings and controversy that attended the drafting of the current sign ordinance.

“I was on the council when we drafted that,” said Wilson.

“You were on the council when Eve got kicked out of the Garden,” quipped Evans.

“Well,” said Wilson once the laughter died down, “the signs looked crappy, to use the technical term. But we need flexibility so things look nice.”

The council agreed to the overhaul and directed the town’s planning staff to suggest changes in the existing ordinance and hold hearings before the planning commission.

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