Jasper sign ordinance discussions continue

Allen Laman/The Herald
Holiday Liquors in Jasper has an electronic sign that faces potential restrictions in an updated sign ordiance.


JASPER — Sign language was once again the focus of the Jasper Plan Commission’s meeting on Wednesday night. But you didn’t need to know how to speak with your hands to understand what was being said.

The council chambers at City Hall was filled with the sounds of verbal debate and discussion when talks of potential changes to the city’s sign ordinance continued for the third consecutive month. About 20 members of the public packed in to listen and contribute to the ongoing conversation, and though a final recommendation to the Jasper Common Council was not officially made, what that recommendation could eventually look like seemed to be further defined.

The conversation sparked in December and has focused on parked vehicles that feature signage as well as the regulation of electronic variable message signs. During the roughly 90 minute affair on Wednesday, the board went through an updated draft of the proposed changes and made a few tweaks that will be further assessed at its March meeting.

Electronic variable message signs

Electronic displays are currently allowed on pole or pylon signs in Jasper as an accessory to a business’ main signage, but a growing number of non-conforming electronic signs have also been approved across the city through zoning board variances.

The draft discussed at Wednesday’s meeting addressed those electronic displays currently in use and those that are installed in the future.

Potential standards discussed Wednesday night included that messages on the signs may scroll on and off of the screens and that the time required for any given message, including scroll in and scroll out, shall not be less than 5 seconds.

The electronic fixtures often rotate like a slideshow, and City Attorney Renee Kabrick explained that through the proposed language, one message can consist of multiple slides. The message, “Sale tomorrow 5 p.m.,” for example, could be split up into three separate slides within the five second time limit.

At its January meeting, the board discussed at length the use of animations and video. In the latest draft, both would be permitted on the signs.

“My recommendation, based on our staff and our capabilities is we either allow moving signs or we don’t,” Kabrick said. “We just don’t have the staff, we just don’t have the capability to have people going out, trying to distinguish between whether something is what you would call animated or video, and how long it lasts. Between those two things, the enforcement of that would be a nightmare.”

The signs would be required to not cause glare, and would also be required to be equipped with adjustable light sensors capable of adjusting light intensity according to ambient light levels during the day and at night.

Existing electronic variable message signs in the city that are not technologically capable of complying with the new requirements would be grandfathered in and allowed to remain in use.

Vehicles used as signs

Like the draft presented in January, the document discussed Wednesday would prohibit the parking of or use of vehicles as signs in all zoning districts. The city’s current ordinance does prohibit the use of vehicles and trailers parked on public or private property for the purpose of displaying a sign, but Darla Blazey, the city’s director of community development and planning, explained that the existing language is unclear and difficult to enforce.

Should the proposed changes pass, the parking of any vehicle, trailer, or similar movable structure containing or supporting any signage “between the right-of-way line and any public street; and the front line of a building and the front lot line of the lot, whichever area is greater,” would not be allowed.

A list of exceptions would exist, however. The restriction would not apply to motorized vehicles that can fully fit within an on-site, standard parking space, for example. When Wednesday’s draft was originally presented, only passenger cars, pickup trucks and passenger vans qualified for the exception, but the board eventually agreed to open it to any vehicle.

In the draft, other exceptions include vehicles: actively involved in the construction on or serving of a site; delivering products to a site and parked temporarily in designated loading areas, including but not limited to those vehicles parked for staging; parked in designated truck parking areas of a site or development that have been screened from or are not generally visible from the public right of way; parked on sites where parking is not available 150 feet or more from the public right of way. In such cases, vehicles supporting signage shall be located as far as possible from the public right of way.

Kabrick explained that the goal of all the changes is to make the original language more objective and less subjective.

The potential changes to the ordinance will be further discussed at the next plan commission meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at City Hall, 610 Main St. The Jasper Common Council will ultimately approve them before they go into effect.

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