City no longer relaxed on temporary signs

Complex owner says some signage necessary to keep businesses alive
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Temporary business signs will no longer decorate Auburn streets. In a four-to-one vote Monday night, City Council decided to discontinue the relaxation of temporary sign regulations in the city. In March 2009 the city began the relaxation period to give businesses more advertising opportunities during the recession. At that time City Council directed city staff to bring the issue back for review in a year’s time. During the relaxation time businesses were allowed to keep temporary signs up. Businesses will now have to follow the original signage ordinance. The ordinance for businesses in Auburn states that signs such as banners and balloons can only be used to let the community know about an event, namely grand openings, for a period of 30 days, according to Lance Lowe, associate planner for the city of Auburn. Wilfred Wong, community development director for the city of Auburn, said a grace period of at least 60 days is now in place to give staff a chance to notify and work with businesses to get the temporary signs removed. Wong said staff might approve some businesses’ A-frame signs if they fit the city’s design criteria. Before the issue went before City Council, the city contacted the Downtown Business Association, Old Town Business Association and Highway 49 Business Association to inform them of the possible change, according to Lowe. The Downtown Business Association and Old Town Business Association wrote letters supporting going back to the original ordinance. Jack Remington, president of the Highway 49 Business Association, said the members of his association didn’t seem to mind discontinuing the relaxation period. “We do have members in the city limits, but we did not receive comments from anybody,” Remington said. “I would say most of our people who are retailers who would use (the signage relaxation) are in the county.” Harvey Roper of the Downtown Business Association said keeping Auburn’s business area visually appealing is important. “The biggest thing is to maintain a nice appearance and be consistent between Old Town and Downtown,” Roper said. “If people were diligent and took their banners down after 30 days, that would be great. If they want to leave them up like permanent signage, that doesn’t look good.” Linda Robinson, president of the Old Town Business Association, said she thinks going back to the original ordinance is a good idea. “During Amgen we requested that all merchants who have banners … that they take them all down,” Robinson said. “What we discovered is it really opened up the stores and you could see the entrances to the stores … and it really looks nice.” Dan Tenold, owner of Wizards of Metal in Old Town, said the relaxation didn’t influence his business, and he’s glad the city plans to enforce the original ordinance. “I really wasn’t affected by it,” Tenold said. “I didn’t put up any extra signage or anything. I just don’t think it’s a place for plastic banners to be hanging around. It is a historic district and I think it should maintain the value of that.” Pete Aroz Sr., who owns the Auburn Square business complex on Harrison Avenue, said he has allowed his business tenants to put up temporary signs on the brick wall below the landmark waterwheel at Harrison and Elm avenues so people coming down Elm Avenue would know what businesses were in the complex. Aroz, whose family runs the Liquor Outlet and Pistol Pete’s, said he designed a conceptual sign for his complex that includes the names of all businesses, an arrow pointing to Downtown Auburn, and a digital scrolling sign that could list the names of other local businesses. Aroz said signs are necessary to help businesses survive. “The signage is important,” Aroz said. “You put them up for good reason, to attract customers.” Aroz said he hasn’t been getting a lot of support in regards to his sign idea, but he’s ready to work with the city and Downtown Business Association to create a permanent sign for the complex. Wong said although he has talked to Aroz about his idea, scrolling signs and signs advertising businesses other than those in the adjoining complex, are not allowed by city code. “We are all for a free-standing monument sign … but making it compatible … making it fit into historic Downtown,” Wong said. Bruce Cosgrove, chief executive officer for the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, said he agrees with the discontinuation of temporary sign relaxations. “I do believe it’s good to go back to the normal ordinance,” Cosgrove said. “Nothing is forever. We are all feeling we have still got a long road ahead of us as far as the economy is concerned, but there has been a slight kick in the economy.” Councilman Bill Kirby, who voted against the discontinuation, said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to remove the signs, because the city hasn’t received any specific complaints about them. “When they said they had no complaints, I just don’t see the problem,” Kirby said. “I respect both business associations … but every business in town does not go to their meetings. They don’t represent all the businesses in town.” Reach Bridget Jones at