New proposed sign ordinances spark debate


JASPER — Sandwich signs sparked a long discussion at the Jasper Common Council meeting Wednesday evening.

The council took a first look at the city’s new sign ordinances to be added to the Unified Development Ordinance and took issue with the new rules for sandwich signs, the A-frame signs many local businesses place outside. Under the new ordinances, sandwich signs would be allowed only in the Downtown Business District and other areas zoned for central business. Council members thought that was too harsh since several businesses throughout the city use sandwich signs.

Under the current ordinances, sandwich signs are allowed throughout the city as long as they are placed within 10 feet of the business entrance and are not in the city’s rights of way.

“That was just not adhered to,” City Attorney Renee Kabrick said.

Signs of all kinds are found illegally placed in the right of ways next to roads, Kabrick said, and her office and the planning department repeatedly get calls complaining about illegally placed sandwich signs, mostly from other business owners who wonder why they should comply with the ordinances when their neighbors don’t. The new ordinance would have eliminated that problem.

Councilman Dean Vonderheide was the first to speak against the sandwich sign ban citing businesses who have been using sandwich signs since they started business and the idea that it would be unfair to now tell them they can’t use the signs.

“I just want to make sure we’re open to businesses,” Vonderheide said. “I don’t think we’re trying to make it hard to do business in Jasper.”

The council decided to amend the ordinances to allow sandwich signs throughout the city but subject them to the new enforcement guidelines set out in the new ordinances. Under the new guidelines, the city’s code enforcement officer will be able to remove illegally placed signs, particularly those in the rights of way. Removed signs won’t be thrown away, Kabrick said, as the city realizes people have spent money on their signage.

Kabrick pointed out that signs in the rights of way have always been illegal, but the current ordinances make it difficult for the city to act. Under the current ordinances, the code enforcement officer can’t just remove an illegally placed sign but instead has to talk to the sign owner and request the sign be removed. If the sign isn’t removed, the planning department sends a letter to the sign’s owner, and if that doesn’t work, the legal department sends a letter. If letters don’t work, the legal department must get permission from the Plan Commission to apply a fine to the violator. The process takes weeks, and the signs are often gone by the time any action can be taken simply because the advertisements are no longer needed. The new ordinances would allow for immediate removal of the sign, which is important with regards to the rights of way.

“Those are some of the calls we get most often,” Mayor Terry Seitz said. “Anything that’s in the right of way gets a lot of attention.”

Sandwich signs dominated the discussion at the council meeting, but the sign ordinances cover all types of signage throughout the city. Under the new ordinances, current legal commercial signs will be grandfathered in under the new ordinance. At shopping centers, one comprehensive sign is allowed for the entire center, and each business is allowed one sign. In residential and agriculture zones, citizens will be allowed one sign up to 4 square feet per lot, with the exception of 60 days before and after elections. Such signs include professional nameplates, signs supporting local athletes or clubs and signs supporting local causes. Kabrick said that one sign has always been the limit for residential zones, but it has not been heavily enforced because no one complains about people with multiple yard signs regularly, such as families with multiple high school athletes. The sign ordinances, Kabrick said, are enforced depending on complaints received because the city does not have the manpower to drive the city looking for sign violations.

The next step for the new sign ordinances lies with the plan commission. The document will return to the commission with the council’s amendment at the November meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, in Jasper City Hall, 610 Main St. The plan commission needs to approve the new ordinances with the council’s amendment.

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