by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
During the regular Owosso City Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 11, a public hearing was included to receive citizen comment on the proposed repeal and replacement of Chapter 26, Signs, of the (Owosso) Code of Ordinances. This issue has been in the works for several years, dating back to a proposal by Sue Montenegro, the previous assistant city manager who was also on the Owosso Planning Commission (OPC), to help make the sign ordinance easier to use for both applicants and city staff. Applicants and staff had found the ordinance difficult to use. Jump forward more than three years later, after the planning commission held numerous and lengthy discussions on the subject (supporting agenda packets/minutes are available on the city website), the Owosso Planning Commission unanimously voted in September to “advance the sign ordinance amendments to the city council.” Two Owosso City Council members also currently sit on the planning commission – Dan Law and Janae Fear – based on their yes votes, both agreed in September to move the sign ordinance amendments to council. It should be noted that the planning commission was open for a public hearing at the time, though nobody was in attendance to speak. This information can be validated in the Monday, Sept. 23 Owosso Planning Commission minutes.
The packet detailing the sign ordinance amendment, discussed by the Owosso City Council on Monday evening, is also fully available on the city website. The replacement language, with the goal to add clarity and ease of use for applicants and staff by minimizing the amount of regulations “concerning the size, placement, construction, illumination and other aspects of signs” as discussed both during the public hearing and by council, was approved. Council members Jerry Haber and Dan Law were the only no votes – though Law had voted yes on the material in the September planning commission meeting. The incompatibility seems reflective of Haber expressing his concern over the elimination of festoons. Festoons are the flag-like banners or pennants often used at auto dealerships. The festoon topic was broadly discussed by the planning commission and included in several minutes/packets. Dale Frasier, owner at D&L Auto Sales on Corunna Avenue, has utilized festoons for many years, having them displayed quite high off the ground, where they aren’t a distraction for drivers. Frasier, in attendance during the meeting, argued on behalf of keeping his festoons. Haber and Law were in agreement that Frasier’s festoons, since they had been on site for so long, were not a distraction. Council seemed in agreement that Frasier’s auto dealership is always neat and orderly.
“Not everybody keeps up their property as well as Mr. Frasier does,” stated council member Janae Fear. The conflict arose, both on planning commission and on council, that the city can’t objectively allow one merchant to utilize festoons without allowing them to be available to everyone. There was also concern expressed regarding festoons becoming a potential public hazard if they come lose, blow around or hang too low.
Other discussion was over (changeable) Electronic Message Signs (EMS), which will not be allowed to flash, fade or scroll. EMS can be used as “part of a wall or ground sign.” They can’t be used “within the historic district boundary.” They can’t “exceed half the total area of the sign.” Also, burned out bulbs/voids must be replaced within ten days of city notification.
A third topic of debate involved marquees. Again, all guidelines are available in the packet on the city website. As outlined on the ordinance amendment, marquee signs will be permitted within the historic district and Westown district for theaters. They will not be allowed to project over a street, alley or service drive. Any marquee suspended over public property must include liability insurance.
Prohibited signs will include abandoned signs, balloon signs, festoons, flashing signs, illegal signs, inflatables, moving signs (excluding barber shop poles), obsolete signs, off-premise signs, pennants, roof signs and more.
The next city council meeting is planned for Monday, Nov. 4. The city website is www.ci.owosso.mi.us.