Historians say revolutions take place when an oppressive regime tries to liberalize.
Well, that could account for last week’s mini-revolt down at the Payson Town Hall, as the council pondered proposed changes to its sign ordinance.
“Nobody is making a living, but we’re doing what we have to do,” said Robert Schmidt whose little, yellow, wooden Crafters Cubbies sign on town right-of-way along the highway ran afoul of the town’s ordinance. “You don’t shovel the sidewalk, but we can’t have a sign? We can’t put a sign out on Tuesday? Please, please: Listen to the people. Keep small businesses alive. I beg you.”
Eugene Brown said businesses have struggled to lure customers in off the highway. “I am sad and sorry to see these businesses going out of business. This is not brain surgery. It’s signage. I implore you. These banners should be out there to attract business.”
The furor arose over the town’s plodding, years-long effort to overhaul the sign ordinance, played out so far in half a dozen planning commission and design review board meetings that hardly any citizens attended.
The planning commission recommended an overhaul of the restrictive sign ordinance adopted back in the days when Payson worried about garish colors and code enforcement more than about empty storefronts. The town’s design review standards call for muted, mountain colors for buildings and signs alike. The regulations also ban “temporary” storefront signs on Tuesdays — so they’ll be, well, temporary. The ordinance limits flapping banners and such to 15 days a month, to keep them from looking faded, frayed and tacky. In addition, the ordinance requires metal frames for all temporary signs not attached to the building — so they stay in good repair and aren’t hard to move around.
The planning commission overhaul had suggested relaxing some of those restrictions — like no temporary signs on Tuesday. However, the changes didn’t deal with the color issue, which falls under the authority of the design review board.
Still, the restrictions left in place upset the business owners who attended last Thursday’s council meeting.
“I don’t understand what it’s going to hurt” to leave a banner alongside the highway for 30 days instead of 15, said the owner of Smart Systems. Every business needs every advantage it can get.”
Schmidt said that when Crafters Cubbies put a bright yellow sign in the town right-of-way fronting Highway 87, business jumped 40 percent. But a town code enforcement official came by and ordered him to move the sign back onto the sidewalk in front of the store — far from the highway. The sign violated the ordinance with its eye-catching yellow paint and the lack of a metal frame.
“We have 37 crafters in my store, just hoping we can stay open,” said Schmidt, noting that business dropped off as soon as the town forced him to move the sign away from the highway.
Rebecca Acord, also with Crafters Cubbies, criticized the restrictive code. “You guys don’t like my signs because it apparently has yellow on it and it draws attention to my sign. But if you’re trying to make a sign that blends into the ground — what good is that?”
Deborah Roberts, who owns Chitwood’s Cabinets, said the town code enforcement officer threatened to confiscate her sign because it didn’t have a metal frame. She bought a metal frame, but couldn’t make it fit together right. So she just leaned the metal frame against the wooden sign.
The council scrambled to placate the angry business owners.
“This process was not started by this council,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, although councilors Ed Blair and John Wilson were on the council at the time the present, restrictive sign ordinance was adopted. “But as I understand some of these things had to do with the term ‘temporary’. They determined it was ‘temporary’ if you didn’t display it one day a week — which was Tuesday.”
“But what was the thought process on the 15-day limit on banners?” asked Councilor Michael Hughes.
Assistant Town Manager LaRon Garrett shrugged, “I don’t know, specifically.”
Councilor Fred Carpenter, who once served as town manager, said, “But I thought the idea was to liberalize the sign ordinance?”
Town attorney Tim Wright then explained that the planning commission’s overhaul of the ordinance would drop the no-temporary-signs-on-Tuesday rule and let businesses put banners in unimproved town rights-of-way. The overhaul also would allow businesses to get a single annual permit for temporary signage. The ordinance also establishes rules for flashing electronic signs not mentioned in the current rules.
Planning Commission Vice Chairman John Swenson said, “We struggled to liberalize signs as much as we could.”
He noted that the limit on banners was intended to avoid a proliferation of “ragged, rat-tailed, falling-down banners and so forth.”
Councilor Ed Blair suggested the council ease up on the rules about colors. “Now, yellow might be bad if you painted the whole Home Depot building — but a two-foot by three-foot sign, that should not have to be the color of the rocks. This town needs to be pro-business.”
Evans then suggested the council send the sign ordinance overhaul back to the planning commission to reconsider the concerns of the business owners, who didn’t attend the numerous previous sessions.
Wright said the council could also ask the planning staff to simply incorporate changes before the ordinance comes back to the council for a second reading — probably in two weeks.
So the council in the end directed the planning and legal staff to incorporate the concerns about the 15-day limit on banners, guidelines on putting signs close to the highway in the town right-of-way and limits on the colors and materials used for temporary signs.