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Retailers pay to change sign law



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May 16, 2012 - To brighten up the downtown, Clarkston Retailers Group may have to pay $3,750 to amend the city's ordinance on illuminated signs.

Since their talk with the City Council about amending city ordinances to allow lit signs, April 9, business owners have been weighing their options.

"There's a science to retail, and light is important," said Kevin Harrison, owner of KH Home.

He placed a lit sign in his window to catch the eye of drivers passing by at night. Without a sign, Harrison says potential customers won't bother to find a parking space because they won't know for certain he's open for business.

For hanging an internally lit sign, he was issued a warning letter by the city. Other retailers like Dana Fortinberry received notices for violating the ordinance too.

"There are lots of retailers and residents who are in noncompliance with ordinances, and they haven't been in compliance for years and years," said Jen Detkowski, city Planning Commission member.

For example, the letters spelling out "Rudy's" are bright, neon red. Another ordinance states holiday lights cannot be used except during the Christmas season, yet Essence on Main and Clarkston Hair Salon use holiday lights to adorn their shops.

When asked about whether or not the ordinances are being upheld fairly, Mayor Luginski said Rudy's sign is different because "it has been there for decades and was grandfathered in."

"We need to do a better job as a city to uphold all of our ordinances," Luginski added.

He also believes that many of the ordinance inconsistencies will be ironed out once they are codified, a process that is long overdue.

Retailers haven't been certain about how to proceed.

"When we know the process, we'll follow it to the letter," Fortinberry said.

After attending the last meeting of the Retailers Group, the mayor asked Dennis Ritter to send a letter outlining the process for amending the ordinance.

The retailers aren't the only ones perplexed by the amendment process. Detkowski is unsure of whether or not there should be an application fee while Luginski isn't certain how the Historic District Commission comes into play during the process.

According to the City's Code of Ordinances, it is illegal to erect a prohibited sign without a permit. City Manager Dennis Ritter said an application to amend the ordinance costs $750.

City Council estimated the whole process would cost the retailers $3,000, which they'll need to pay up front. If the amendment process is less, the difference would be returned. However, their amendment may ultimately be denied. Mayor Joe Luginski said he is currently talking with the city's attorney and planner to determine if the current estimate could be lower.

Harrison said his new sign, which he developed with Curt Catallo, maintains the character of the downtown and is unique to Clarkston. However, it is still lit internally, which is technically a violation of zoning ordinance.

Although City Council and Planning Commission have not had an official peek at the new sign, the Mayor saw it and said, "I personally think it's okay. It's much more fitting in with the downtown."

Clarkston News reporter
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