Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Solution to the city’s sandwich-board struggle?

Ketchum P&Z proposes alternative of hanging small signs from poles

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Jack Bariteau The tourist town of Healdsburg, Calif., has installed way-finding posts like these to guide visitors to stores throughout downtown.

Anne McLean had never broken Ketchum's rule forbidding sandwich-board signs in city sidewalks, until this summer. After placing her Sun Valley Eyeworks sign down the street from her location, she claimed business increased by 25 percent. Just what she needed.

McLean and other proprietors told the city's Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday that they've resorted to the freestanding signs—illegally popping up all over downtown sidewalks—not out of insubordination.

"It's desperation as the reason why we put them out," said Deborah Burns, owner of the boutique Burnsie's and also a P&Z commissioner, claiming proprietors are doing anything they can to drum up business.

Burns said visitors find it difficult to navigate the town, which is something Lara Spencer, owner of The Dollhouse boutique, could attest to. She said people have come into her shop time and time again after walking all over downtown struggling to find her business.

Businesses are without a legal alternative. Ketchum law allows businesses to place sandwich boards and other signs in front of their doors as long as it doesn't block the sidewalk, but not down the street to guide potential customers. And way-finding is the true need.

The city has rewritten its rules for all signs in town—presenting the rough draft for the first time on Monday—and sandwich boards are more restricted. Planning Manager Stefanie Leif said the main intention of the 27-page rewrite is to clarify the rules. However, the proposed rules require sandwich boards to be on private property, meaning they couldn't be on the edge of the sidewalk against a business, as is currently allowed.

Some of the business owners at Monday's meeting claimed they understood the city's reasoning for forbidding sandwich boards on any part of public sidewalks: The signs create a traffic hazard for pedestrians and are unsightly. However, Under Takers owner Nancy Humphrey said, the city needs to strike a balance between limiting signs but still attracting business.

"How are they going to find us if it's a completely sterile environment?" she rhetorically asked.

For that reason, Burns proposed an alternative to sandwich boards, which she said has already received the Mayor Randy Hall's support. She recommended using the tall posts lining the main thoroughfares for hanging simple signs pointing in the direction of nearby businesses. The same purpose would be served as the sandwich boards but out of the way of pedestrians, more visible, and appealing. The other commissioners backed her plan, as did Spencer.

"I'm 100 percent with you guys," Spencer said.

Hotel Ketchum developer Jack Bariteau recommended looking at the model of Healdsburg, Calif., which did the same thing with success.

"You need to do this now," Bariteau said. "We can't wait for it. This has been put on the back burner forever."

The P&Z approved rewritten sign rules in 2006, but the City Council never looked at the rules. The P&Z then updated the 2006 draft a year later, but the council again failed to look at adopting the new rules.

Burns said she would bring this way-finding plan before the council prior to the Christmas season, when visitors start pouring back into town for the winter.

Commissioner Michael Doty said it has been the P&Z's intention since sandwich boards became an issue this spring to find an alternative for businesses.

"We always had an eye on a solution for sandwich boards, so there's not this big abyss," Doty said.

Trevon Milliard:

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