Archived Story

Increased enforcement to accompany new sign rules

Published 9:22am Thursday, January 17, 2013 Updated 11:23am Thursday, January 17, 2013

Despite concerns from several business owners, the Fergus Falls City Council will vote on tighter restrictions — and new methods of enforcing them — on those big, black signs in Fergus Falls.

The council has been working on changing the sign ordinance since last summer after city staff heard complaints from residents.

Following recommendations from the Planning Commission, the council will consider the following modifications at its Monday meeting:

• Commercial signs will not be allowed in residential areas, not including real estate or similar looking signs.

• Commercial signs may be erected for up to 30 days and must be removed three days after cessation of the activity.

• Non-profit groups looking to promote an event can place a sign for two weeks prior to the event, and must remove it three days after the event is over.

The Planning Commission also recommended stepping up enforcement by giving all city officials the authority to order a non-compliant sign taken down, based on a complaint or by visual inspection. Len Taylor, of the city’s building and zoning department, is currently the only staff member responsible for enforcement of the sign ordinance.

“We have a situation right now in that we have only one enforcement officer,” Community Development Director Gordon Hydukovich said. “We have to think now how we will proceed.”

The commission also recommended consistent enforcement of the permit requirement. While sign permits have been required since the 1980s, Hydukovich said, enforcement of the permit requirement was done “in waves” over the years.

The proposals were met with concern from Chamber of Commerce members and those who both sell and use the advertising signs in question.

Council member Randy Synstelien, who spoke to Pinnacle Black Signs owner Chris Jacobson, said he felt language that would have made the ordinance more friendly to businesses was left out.

“(Jacobson) went through the proposed ordinance. And it was very detrimental to his business as to what had taken place,” Synstelien said. “So I worked with him in incorporating some language that would be more business friendly. And having seen this (proposed ordinance) for the first time last night, it doesn’t look like any of those comments that came through the industry through me to Len (Taylor) were incorporated.”

The proposed ordinance was sent out to committee members late on Tuesday, so there was some discrepancies between the new one and the older proposal, according to Community Development Director Gordon Hydukovich.

“I know this is the first time some of you are seeing it,” Hydukovich said.

He also added that the discussion with business owners resulted in several modifications, including allowing signs on roads leading into town.

“After a discussion with the (Planning Commission), they figured hey, you’re entering a scenic byway into a community and communities have (events), so they took that portion out,” Hydukovich said.

Sean Sullivan, branch manager for US Bank and Chamber representative, said he had concerns about the requirement of a sign permit, believing the delays would hamper his ability to promote his business.

“My business, like many, needs to be responsive to market conditions and market opportunities and if I have to wait several days to get a permit, that would really impact my ability to respond,” Sullivan said.

He said the Chamber recommended the city to license the sign companies, and then authorize them to enforce the rules. “The sign owner is in the best position to enforce or make sure the rules in place are in compliance,” Sullivan said.

Hydukovich said city officials recognize the need for a quick sign permitting process.

“We’re known for our quick action and being business friendly,” he said. “I don’t think we have a situation now were someone has to wait for a sign too long.”

Hydukovich said he felt updating the sign ordinance to address the issue of black signs was important, because such signs were not considered when the ordinance was written in the 1980s. The signs in question at that time, he said, were the computerized, blinking, flashing type.

“The last time this was done, the city had dilapidated, poorly kept signs that were all over,” he said. “It was a different problem then.”

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