Sometimes, the Town of Payson and the business community seem like an unhappily married couple.
They definitely need each other: Payson lives on sales tax and businesses need infrastructure.
But they have the same fights: Mostly about signs.
Last week, the argument about Payson’s restrictive sign ordinance surfaced again in two separate meetings. At one end of town, at Town Hall, the planning commission contemplated a sign crackdown. At the other end, at the Oxbow Saloon, business owners bemoaned the current regulations.
The Planning and Zoning Commission met on Dec. 3 to discuss the ordinance for temporary and portable signs, adopted years ago to make the town look more like Sedona than a strip mall. The discussion focused on the small, temporary signs stuck up every morning on the town’s right of way.
“Quite a few businesses don’t follow (the ordinance) very much,” said Doni Wilbanks, Payson’s planning and zoning director.
But across town, the Main Street Merchants vented about the seemingly arbitrary restrictions.
“If we do the things we are planning, we need signs,” said Minette Hart, who heads the Main Street Merchants Guild.
The fight’s been going on for years.
Planning and Zoning ordinancesPlanning and Zoning Commissioner Clark Jones recalled the battle that led to the current rules for temporary signs.
“I remember the last time we went through this. We were just happy to get something passed,” he said.
Many businesses rely on the temporary sandwich boards to lure customers off the highway. The P&Z Commission had decided on a very specific design for these sandwich signs as well as requiring a $25 annual permit.
• All portable signs shall be professionally constructed.
• They must be hanging signs with a black metal A-frame.
• The signs may not use any reflective material or fluorescent colors.
• Signs may not exceed six square feet in size.
However, Wilbanks said few businesses go by the rules — or bother to get a permit.
“There are a lot of signs out there without a permit,” said Wilbanks. “None of those would be able to get a permit with the way they are designed ... a lot of businesses are not happy with having to change their signs.”
She asked the P&Z Commission for direction on how to proceed before the town enforced the code.
Commission members asked if the town suggests places businesses can get a proper sign.
“The biggest complaint is where to find that sign and get it made,” said Wilbanks. “There is a handout for it (showing) this is what it needs to look like.”
Commission member Kenneth Woolcock asked, “is it something the town could present where it could be found?”
Wilbanks said when people get a business license, town staff suggest they “get back to us about a sign,” but they “didn’t read that part of their application.”
Commission member Scott Helmer asked if the town could throw businesses “a bone and have it white or black.”
Signage for Main Street
Across town, the Main Street Merchants bemoaned the lackluster attendance at two new events they created this year, the Olde Main Street Days and the Christmas Tree Lighting.
They agreed they needed better signs.
Some suggested stringing a banner over Highway 87 near the southern entrance to town, but after the chamber stopped taking responsibility for the banner, no other organization stepped up, especially since it seems the poles are not structurally safe.
“There is a banner up there right now, put up originally by the chamber,” said Bob Hershberger, former chair of the ASU architect school. He has now retired to Payson and hopes to build a cultural center along Main Street, which would again require some kind of sign on the highway.
The sign ordinance makes it hard to put up attention-grabbing electronic signs — like the sign the chamber uses on the corner of Main and Beeline Highway.
“The Town of Payson policy is you cannot have off-site signage,” said Mary Hansen, general manager of the Oxbow Saloon and Grill, “but there’s that chamber sign.”
Hart says even the chamber’s electronic sign isn’t enough.
“Nobody sees it — they don’t even shoot at it,” she said.
Mayor Tom Morrissey said the town, “should have a paradigm that supports these types of events.”
So for now, the couple continues to bicker.