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New village sign ordinance approved despite criticisms



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October 02, 2013 - After years of work and much debate, the Oxford Village Council last week finally approved 4-0 an amended version of its sign ordinance.

Among the more significant changes is the ordinance allows for portable sidewalk signs in "all commercial zoning districts" and they "may be placed at the public entrances to businesses, on either private property or the public sidewalk."

These signs were previously prohibited.

Portable sidewalk signs include A-frame, T-frame and other temporary sign styles not permanently affixed to the ground.

Their use will now require a permit and approval from the village building official. They can be no bigger than a total of 8 square feet or exceed 5 feet in height.

Village Manager Joe Young said it's not been determined how much, if anything, will be charged for the sidewalk sign permit or how long it will last.

Under the new ordinance, portable sidewalk signs must be placed "at least 5 feet from the curb" and leave a clear 5-foot path of sidewalk "at all times" so as not to impede pedestrian traffic.

Portable sidewalk signs cannot be on wheels and must be "kept in good repair at all times." They must also be made of "durable materials" and "architecturally compatible with the style, composition, materials and details of the building."

Banners on the Polly Ann Trail pedestrian bridge over M-24 will also be allowed under the new ordinance.

The banners must be for community events. Their size can 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.

A permit from the village is required for bridge banners and they must comply with all requirements from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Fire Chief Pete Scholz inquired about the definition of "community events" as it pertains to the bridge banners.

"Who's community are we promoting?" he asked.

Scholz cited examples of banners that advertised events in Lake Orion and Dryden over the last few months. He suggested not allowing any banners that aren't related to Oxford events.

"Personally, I'm in agreement with him," said Councilman Elgin Nichols. He believes the banners should just promote Oxford-based events and people.

Village Manager Joe Young noted he could administratively give "first priority" to Oxford-based events when banner requests are submitted. His idea was approved by council when it approved the new sign ordinance.

Electronic message signs are now prohibited under the new ordinance. However, they could be allowed if special use approval is granted by the village planning commission according to set criteria.

Two local business owners were still very critical of the new ordinance and opposed to its passage.

Chris Bishop, owner of Oxford Hardware, believes the ordinance is looking to "regulate people's taste" and that's a slippery slope.

"I just think there's a lot in here (concerning) what people don't like," he said.

He had many complaints and concerns about the language.

One was about how the ordinance states that temporary signs and banners are limited to a total of 16 square feet.

Bishop didn't understand that size limitation in light of the fact that banners on the trail bridge can now be as large as 120 square feet.

"I'm just curious as to why you would allow these big banners on the bridge and be so restrictive here," he said. "That is a concern of mine."

Another of Bishop's complaints had to do with the prohibition on electronic message signs. He suggested council eliminate that ban and allow them pending review and approval by the appropriate board.

"I just think that when you have something in here that's very clearly prohibited, it creates (an obstacle) for an individual to get over, right from the get-go," he said. "I just don't think it's fair to the applicant."

Bishop also took issue with the ordinance's prohibition on "exterior pennants, pennant strings, feather flags."

He argued that feather flags are "very popular" with businesses surrounding the village.

"They've been used in the Village of Oxford," Bishop said. "I own one. I haven't used it yet, but (I) sure would like to."

He noted that the Shell gas station on M-24, just south of the village limits, uses feather flags.

"I've never driven by that Shell gas station and thought, 'Wow, those flags are really (abused); they're just unsightly,'" he said. "I haven't seen flags be a problem in our town – that I can remember."

Ted Dickens, owner of OC Photoworx, was also opposed to passing the new ordinance that night.

"I could go through this page by page and point out things which are still wrong," he said. "I'm just asking that you do not go any further with this process tonight. You need to give at least two weeks for people to be able to read it, go through it (and) come up with cogent responses."

Dickens noted there are "errors of fact" in the ordinance language.

"There are things that refer to sections which aren't there," he said. "There are section numbers that are wrong. It shows the result of having a lot of changes made to it."

Dickens informed council he had previously come up with a list containing more than 50 errors in the ordinance.

"Please do not go forward with this. Don't adopt it," he said. "You've made changes. You need to give the community two weeks to comment."

Councilman Elgin Nichols opposed any further delays regarding the ordinance's approval.

"I believe that we ought to move ahead with this," he said. "Is it perfect? No, it probably isn't. But we can make amendments down the line."

Personally, Nichols doesn't believe the ordinance requires any "fixing" because he sees it as "a 1,000 percent improvement" over the previous sign ordinance.

"You can understand what you're reading now, (whereas) before you couldn't," he said.

"Just because I understand it, Elgin, doesn't make it right," Bishop responded.

Councilwoman Sue Bossardet noted the new ordinance is "not written in stone."

"It's not etched on a wall some place," she said. "If we find that there's problems, then it can always be amended. I have no problem doing that and I don't think anybody on this board does, either."

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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