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Biz owners speak, council listens, proposed sign ord. changes



Signs
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The Oxford Village Council agreed to eliminate the proposed prohibition on portable sidewalk signs such as the ones frequently seen in the downtown area. (click for larger version)
September 18, 2013 - A room full of local business owners upset about the proposed changes to Oxford Village's sign ordinance was enough to convince council to make some changes of its own.

Last week, council spent two hours dealing with the proposed sign ordinance.

Much of that time was spent listening to complaints, concerns and comments from business owners who felt the proposed prohibitions and restrictions on signs would negatively impact their ability to advertise and ultimately, hurt their bottom-line.

"People that drive (through) Oxford . . . (have) no idea what we do (or) who we are unless we put up a sign, whether it's (an) A-frame or a banner," said Joey Manni, who manages Wireless Toyz in the downtown area. "It's very important to drive these people into our (businesses), whether it's me putting up a sign or my neighbor, because when (customers are) shopping around, they're going to go from store to store."

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A number of changes were made to the proposed sign ordinance, however, council did not adopt it as whole. It's expected to vote on it at the 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24 meeting at 22 W. Burdick St.

The biggest change was the elimination of the proposed prohibition on portable sidewalk signs, which include A-frame, T-frame and other temporary sign styles not permanently affixed to the ground.

Councilman Elgin Nichols said he talked to many business owners downtown and they "adamantly feel" this type of signage is a "necessity" and an "economical" way to advertise.

"They do not want to see these sandwich board signs disappear," said Nichols, noting that "none" of the business owners he talked to, even the ones that didn't use sidewalk signs, were opposed to these signs.

Nichols said if business owners feel they need these signs to help them be successful, it's not the village's job to "tell them what to do."

Many of the business owners who attended the meeting were adamant about keeping sidewalk signs. They indicated they're a critical part of their advertising strategy.

"Signs are a very inexpensive way to convey a message," said Chris Bishop, owner of Oxford Hardware. "I put up temporary signs from time to time on private property and they turn into real dollars (from customer sales). Bulk mulch is something that I carried this year and I never carried it before. I sold 750 yards of it by putting a sign out on M-24."

Liz Wilson, pastor of Immanuel Congregational United Church of Christ, said she was "horrified" when she first heard about the proposed sign ban.

"It would not only hurt my little church, but it would be very difficult for the business owners in the community," said Wilson, who noted her church frequently uses portable signs to advertise special events.

Wilson believes the signs help inform out-of-town visitors as to what the local business community has to offer.

"There's not enough community here to support our downtown," she said. "There's not enough people – 3,400 people are not going to support all these beautiful stores. We have to be a destination for the rest of the county and for Lapeer County . . . We really need the signage. We really do."

"I understand that you're trying to get some uniformity in the downtown," said Anna Taylor, who owns Pink & Charlie. "But to go from having sidewalk signs to no sidewalk signs is a huge leap. And it almost feels like . . . you guys aren't listening to what the businesses really need."

"We've only been here 11 weeks and in the 11 weeks, I can say that the sandwich board) sign has brought a lot of business to my store," said Sheri Moore, co-owner of Salvage Sisters Boutique. "I ask people when they come in, 'How did you hear about us?' . . . and a lot of them said, "I (saw) your sign when I went by.'"

Moore noted her store's location is such that it requires a sandwich board sign to draw attention to it.

"If I don't have the sandwich boards, (customers are) not going to know I'm there," she said. "If you take them away, it's going to hurt me and being a new business, it's going to really hurt me."

Jim Bielak, co-owner of Beadifferent Boutique, said sandwich board signs make "it look like we're open for business" and add "a little ambience to the downtown."

Bielak suggested having these signs "a little bit more regulated," so they don't look like "clutter."

"My vote is to keep the signs," said Scott Polando, co-owner of downtown's Pit Stop Barber Shop, who asked council to please make sure that whatever ordinance language is passed, all businesses are made to comply.

"I've seen businesses, (in) the year that we've been here, that haven't complied for a year and nothing has happened to them. It hurts me. I feel like, 'Why should I comply if nobody's going to keep them honest?' I want to play by all the rules and I will, just make sure everybody plays by those same rules."

In response to the comments, not only did council nix the proposed prohibition on portable sidewalk signs, it decided to allow them in "all commercial zoning districts," not just a portion of the C-1 commercial district.

However, the signs would require a permit and approval from the village building official. Also, they must be placed at least 5 feet from the curb and leave a clear path of 5 feet of sidewalk for pedestrians at all times.

The proposed prohibition on banners on the Polly Ann Trail pedestrian bridge over M-24 was also eliminated.

"I really think that to just take the banners off the bridge is really a wrong decision for downtown," Taylor said.

"The majority of those organizations (that advertise this way) are the ones that have the actual events in the downtown. People rely on those. They happen so few times during the course of the year that I cannot really come up with a good reason as to why we would eliminate the banners on the bridge."

According to the new proposed language, bridge banners for community events must be no wider than 4 feet and no longer than 30 feet. The lettering must be at least 12 inches tall and in block print.

Banners can be displayed for no more than 21 consecutive days and only one banner per side of the bridge can be displayed at any one time under the proposed language.

A permit from the village building official would be required as well as permission from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Council also approved a proposed change to real estate signs as well.

The size of signs located on residential properties would be increased from 6 to 8 square feet and the maximum height increased from 4 to 6 feet.

The maximum height of real estate signs on nonresidential and vacant properties would also increase from 4 to 6 feet. However, the maximum square footage would remain at 12.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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