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City asks businesses to take temporary signs down

Without signs book store business probably done, owner says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The city of Auburn is once again tightening its restrictions on outdoor advertising, and some merchants aren’t happy about it. On Thursday Lance Lowe, associate planner for the city, sent a letter to 25 businesses in Downtown and Old Town Auburn requesting they remove their banner and A-frame signs by April 18. The letter was the result of a July City Council vote to discontinue the relaxation of the city’s temporary sign regulations. The relaxation period began in March 2009 as a way to give local businesses more opportunities to advertise during the recession. All council members voted to discontinue the relaxation except for Mayor Bill Kirby. “I am not overjoyed about that,” Kirby said Monday. “I think it’s a bad time. I think we need to avoid clutter, but I think that we need to be very careful here in these tough economic times. There are a lot of small businesses that put out signs that are not offensive, and not obtrusive and not in the right of way.” Lowe said businesses are not allowed to have banners year-round, according to the city’s law. “Banners are temporary for grand openings and the like,” Lowe said. “You can have a banner for 30 days. With respect to A-frames, they have to go through a process.” Lowe said businesses that want A-frame signs, which often stand on a sidewalk, need to apply for an encroachment permit through the city’s Community Development Department, but the signs can’t block too much of a walkway. “If the frontage is limited and there is not enough room, then that presents an issue,” he said. Zaki Haddad, owner of High Street Café, hung a banner on the side of his business Monday, but decided to take it down to avoid getting a notice from the city. Haddad said he did not agree with the regulations. “This way we can advertise ourselves to people driving by or walking,” Haddad said. “That is the only way we can advertise, stay in business and try to survive this economy.” Haddad said he thinks his business’ permanent sign is too small for most people to notice. “Once I put this (banner up) I have been getting more people in and people notice when they drive by,” he said. Shelle Parsons, owner of The Book Haven in Gold Country Mall, was scheduled to receive a letter from the city. Parsons said her temporary signs bring in business. “If I have to take my signs in I’m probably done,” Parsons said Monday. “Right now when I put my sign at the corner … that is a draw. It’s at least a $50 a day difference.” Parsons said when she asks people how they found out about her shop they mention the temporary signs. Parsons said she is allowed to hang her yellow banners advertising $2 Tuesday, but she is supposed to take them down when the day is over, which she doesn’t always do. Century 21 Real Estate in Old Town was also scheduled to receive a letter. Real Estate Agent Bob Mullen said he wants the city to further explain the law. “I don’t know if our small signs outside are in conflict with what they are talking about,” Mullen said. “We don’t put ours on the sidewalk, we put ours out on the street. So, I’m waiting until we get more definition on what is happening. In the meantime we are going to let our sign sit out there.” Mullen said although his office can’t prove their temporary sign brings in more business, it gives those passing by an opportunity to find a realtor. “I think it identifies who we are and where we are,” he said. “We average right at four walk-ins to this office every week. That is about three more than most people get in a month.” Mickey’s Wrap Shack on Harrison Street was also scheduled to receive a letter. Owner Mickey Jetpur said there are a couple of reasons why banners are helpful to her business: they are cheaper than signs and they attract people’s attention. “I’m tucked away in the corner on Harrison Street, so it’s not like it’s on Lincoln Way or the main thoroughfare,” Jetpur said. “If you have a sign saying ‘burritos’ or ‘wraps,’ people know. For people who are tucked away, the (lone business) sign doesn’t cut it. You need to add a little more to it, so people driving by can notice. It doesn’t need to be an ugly banner, it can be a pretty banner.” Jetpur said she doesn’t see the problem with banners if they are secured properly. Councilman Keith Nesbitt voted in July to end the relaxation of temporary sign regulations. Nesbitt said he received comments during the relaxation period that parts of the city were starting to look like a garage sale because of the temporary signs. “For the most part it went OK, but there were certain spots in town where people started to abuse it,” Nesbitt said. Nesbitt said he had gotten comments on the topic from constituents and has asked City Manager Bob Richardson to put the item on Monday’s City Council agenda for discussion and possible action. “I’m just at a position now where we need to relax (the regulations) a little bit,” he said. “What I want to make sure is people don’t abuse it.” Lowe said the city wants to clean Auburn up, especially for next month’s Amgen Stage 3 start. “The city does allow signs,” he said. “There’s a permitting process for signs. We’re not saying you have to discontinue advertising. At the same time we’d like to see the banners that are in violation of city code be removed.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------ Consequences of keeping temporary signs up Those businesses that are asked to take down their temporary signs could face fines starting at $100 and reaching $500 if they don’t comply, said Lance Lowe, associate planner with the city of Auburn.