Sign rules cause concern

City should meet with business associations, owner says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The enforcement of a city law concerning signage has some merchants confused and frustrated. Last week the city of Auburn sent a letter to 25 Downtown and Old Town businesses requesting they remove banners or A-frame signs that do not meet the city’s sign regulations. The letter stems from a July City Council vote to discontinue the relaxation of Auburn’s sign regulations. The relaxation was put into place for a year because of the difficult economy businesses face. The city has asked the merchants to take the signs down by April 18. On Monday several Old Town merchants e-mailed their thoughts back and forth. “I am not a fan of strict restrictions or regulations on anything, especially signage,” said Reese Browning, owner of Old Town Pizza. “We all know how important it is to attract potential customers to our businesses, and oftentimes signage at or close to our businesses letting these potential customers know we exist is critical.” Browning said he hopes the city will meet with the Downtown and Old Town business associations and explain exactly what the current regulations are and how merchants can get permanent signs approved. “I think the city feels the guidelines that are in existence were approved by both associations and they are just providing the enforcement, which they are more than happy to do,” he said. Browning said he hopes if this meeting occurs, the associations get on the same page and offer up ideas of how to potentially update the regulations. In a comment on, Councilman Kevin Hanley said the council approved the discontinuation of the regulation relaxation after the business associations approached it with complaints. The associations said the signs made the city look bad and were bad for business, Hanley said. “The City Council says, ‘OK’ to the request of the business associations,” Hanley said. “Now … some businesses want the right to put up temporary signs once again. This issue will come back to the City Council. The business associations need to figure out what they want in the short and long term. I’m getting dizzy.” Linda Robinson, president of the Old Town Business Association, said one of her out-of-area customers recently told her she thought the signs added to Auburn’s charm. “I understand the city is looking to spruce up our two business districts for the Amgen Tour, for events pre-race on May 17,” Robinson said. “However, holding business owners to strict and stringent sign regulations could certainly be relaxed in these challenging times.” Robinson said that businesses should take another look at any old, frayed banners to see whether or not they should still hang. Gary Moffat, owner of Carpe Vino, wrote in a mass e-mail that he thought if the city is trying to spruce itself up for Amgen, it should acknowledge this and ask businesses to comply until after the event. Tom Stout, co-owner of Mary Belle’s Restaurant, said he thinks the business associations need to deal with signage problems themselves rather than involving the city. “I think that signage like that is necessary,” Stout said. “I do think uncontrolled it can get a little out of hand, but these last two years have been our worst, and to take away signage to where it looks pretty stark out there … isn’t going to enhance the situation. I understand the city’s in a bind and they can’t be, ‘OK, this one’s OK and that’s not.’ I kind of hope they will leave them all alone for a little while.” Both Browning and Stout said they were unaware of the business associations’ support of the city enforcing sign regulations again. “There was a minor discussion in our Old Town Business Association meeting, but when the City Council did that I missed that I guess,” Stout said. “If it was supported … it was a pretty minimal thing without much discussion I’m afraid.” The issue is scheduled to go before the City Council again Monday for possible discussion and action. Hanley said any long-term action the council takes should also consider the historical aspect of the city’s buildings and enhancing that asset. Lance Lowe, associate planner with the city of Auburn, said city staff plans to wait until after Monday’s meeting to take any action. “The outgrowth of the meeting will be directional, direction from the City Council on how they want to approach this,” Lowe said. Reach Bridget Jones at