Sign ordinance changes proposed

Published 10:17 pm Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Proposed changes to the city’s sign and banner ordinance were tabled during the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday.

The alterations would relax restrictions on corporate flags, decorative flags, special-events signage and signs advertising homes for sale in residential subdivisions.

Three people at the public hearing were unhappy about the changes, but for different reasons.

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Downtown resident Thomas Woodward said the regulations were too permissive and unenforceable, while representatives for two special-interest groups said the new rules are not permissive enough.

Under the changes, corporate flags would be permitted to be displayed, along with government flags, such as the American and Virginian flags. A maximum of two decorative flags per premises also would be permitted. Neither corporate nor decorative flags were specifically addressed in the old ordinance.

In addition, businesses would be allowed to display signs for up to seven days surrounding state-recognized holidays without a permit. They can continue to apply for a permit to display a sign up to three times per calendar year for 21 days each. The fee for such a permit is $100, but the proposed budget reduces it to $25.

The final change involves residential subdivisions under construction. The proposal would allow developers to place a sign at each subdivision entrance, use a maximum of two wind-driven flags with no advertising copy at the main entrance and place signs in front of the sales office and model homes.

Claudia Cotton, staff vice president in the builder services division of the Tidewater Builders Association, said the association had hoped for other concessions, including allowing A-framed signs at the subdivision entrance, directional signs within the subdivision guiding visitors to the sales office and signage within the parking lot serving the model homes.

“Studies show more traffic visits a new home site when signage is seen,” Cotton said. “We feel these are critical.”

Dean McClain, director of the Suffolk division of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, compared the ordinance to a cake taken out of the oven too soon.

“Many business folks would like to see them,” he said, requesting an extension to allow more input from the business community.

In a March 8 meeting with Chamber members, Planning Director Scott Mills said, members wanted more allowances, including allowing each business to display one banner without a permit.

Mills said the proposed changes had been shared only with the builders association and the Chamber of Commerce. Woodward suggested showing them to others, such as garden clubs and civic leagues.

“There are a lot more people in Suffolk than the TBA,” he said. “Why don’t you take these things to people who don’t have a vested interest?”

Woodward also said enforcing the changes would be “like herding cats” and that he is adamantly opposed to wind-driven flags.

In the end, the commission voted 7-0 to delay the decision for 60 days to allow time for more public input.