The Edmond Sun

June 11, 2013

City Council rejects 2010 sign advice

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: Part I of this story appeared in Tuesday’s edition of The Sun.

The City Council rejected recommendations by the 2010 Sign Ordinance Review Committee at a public workshop this week. Whether the City of Edmond will permit businesses to use electronic message center signage remains in the dark for the foreseeable future.

Revising the current ordinance would have allowed an expanded commercial use of EMC without businesses having to request a variance.

Three former mayors — Saundra Naifeh, Randel Shadid and Dan O’Neil — spoke against updating the current sign ordinance.

“You have an ordinance in place and the digital sign is not part of what Edmond has approved in its ordinances,” Naifeh said. “In fact you made a choice to grant a variance.”

Individual reasons already have taken into account for EMC variances already approved by the council, Naifeh said.

City Councilman Nick Massey told The Edmond Sun that he is disappointed that the  council could not work toward a compromise position with regard to electronic message center signage.

“Edmond is a thriving modern community and it is time to move Edmond into the 21st century with modern day signage,” Massey said. “When done properly and tastefully, having EMC signage does not diminish quality of life in Edmond and in fact makes us a more modern city.”

The current sign ordinance defines three corridors to allow larger square footage and taller signs up to 25 feet in height and 77 square feet. These corridors are on Broadway, Second Street going east to Interstate 35, West Edmond Road and 33rd Street from Broadway to Boulevard, said Bob Schiermeyer, city planner. Ground signs include monument signs, he added.

The committee’s recommendations included:

• EMC allowed only on ground signs, no EMC wall signs.

• EMC allowed on signs that fully comply with all current standards in the code, these include height, square footage, side yard setback, landscaping, pole cover and all other structural requirements. This will prohibit non-conforming signs from being converted to EMC signs.

• A 30-second static text message with a transition of two seconds between messages. All products offered must be sold on the property, no off-premises advertising.

•  No more than 50 percent of the maximum square footage of the sign allowed will be EMC signs.

• Daytime NITS: 6,500; Nighttime NITS: 500. NITS shall be certified by an engineer for the permit.

Non-conforming signs adapted to EMC standards would continue to be non-conforming signs, Mayor Charles Lamb said. The LED lighting would be increased during the daytime and could be made dimmer at night, said Jim Gleason of Superior Neon Signs.

“Most of my clients probably favor electronic signs. I do not, never have, never will,” said Shadid, an attorney who represents business interests before the council. Shadid helped to craft the current sign ordinance during his two terms as mayor from 1991-95.

“I just think they’re traffic hazards; they’re eyesores,” Shadid said. “People tell you it enhances business. I do not believe that. I oppose the clutter, the distraction of electronic signs.”

O’Neil said the I-35 corridor will be Edmond’s downtown for the next century. Care is needed in developing it, he added. People will shop here because Edmond has quality standards, O’Neil said.

“We’re not very good about regulating things after the fact. It just doesn’t happen,” O’Neil said. “Whose going to be the NIT guard of the NIT police.”

Someone with a business plan and love for a business in their own town will make their business work for them,” said Naifeh, former owner of a gift shop.

“I think what you’re talking about instead of a sign ordinance is an advertising ordinance,” Naifeh said. “Let’s be really clear — this is about advertising and the amount of messages that we would like to put out to the public.”

If clutter and safety is a problem with EMC, they would be already be banned everywhere, said Justin Booher of Vital Signs of Edmond.

“I think what we need to do is find a happy medium, a balance between residential and commercial,” Booher said.

Businesses don’t want the time-consuming effort of inserting big letters on outdated signs, said businessman Dave Thomas, owner of Thomas Supply Center. His sign is getting old, he said. Thomas can spend $10,000 updating his existing sign that is based on 1950s technology or wait for the city to join 21st century with modern signage, he said.

“My advantage is I could sit safely at my desk even if it’s raining outside,” Thomas said. “… I could safely change the sign to whatever we have for sale that day.”

Edmond resident Ronnie Williams said Edmond is a unique place. Looking like every other town with a “video canyon” would be contrary to maintaining the quality of life that residents expect of Edmond, Williams said.

“The last thing I want to do is live somewhere where I drive through a canyon of lights,” Williams said.

Massey said the council’s lack of decision making is detrimental to business and economic development. Instead of now having a workable ordinance that everyone can live with, businesses must continue bringing their variance requests, one at a time, before the city council.

“This is time consuming and will create even more confusion and lack of continuity. I hope we will find a way to consider this again in the future,” Massey said.

Lamb said he favors preparing the language of an EMC ordinance for the council to approve or not.

“I’m not willing to deal with changes,” Lamb said. “But, I’m at the point in saying that it seems to me we need to draw up whatever rules we’re comfortable with and go from that point.”

Lamb directed city staff to look into hiring a special consultant to address EMC and provide information for the council to consider a “dark sky ordinance” in town. The consultancy would also provide information for I-35 sign standards.

“I am especially concerned about the clutter, especially when you throw in the graphics, not just the letters,” said Elizabeth Waner, city councilwoman.

Light is a concern as well the possibility of having EMC signs create clutter by allowing them every 25 feet, Waner said. Long-term maintenance of the signs could be a problem, she said. An unleveled playing field would result if some businesses don’t have the money to afford the signs, Waner said.

“I think it is going to be a headache for the community to enforce,” Waner said. The city would have to monitor the EMC within 48 hours of placement, she said.

City Councilman Darrell Davis agreed with Waner that enforcing EMC codes would be costly and problematic. More information is needed about the impact of light illumination creep in Edmond, he said. Lamb said maintaining dark skies is especially important east of I-35.

“I understand from a business perspective the need, the desire,” Davis said. “I’m looking at it from a city perspective, the things we have to deal with.”

Massey agreed with O’Neil that churches should be omitted from EMC use. It would not be fair for churches outside areas zoned for EMC not to be able to benefit from a new ordinance, he said.

“I do think though that five to eight seconds, or 12 seconds, is too fast,” Massey said of pauses before light display would change.

City Councilwoman said she would be comfortable if EMC would be limited to once-a-day changes. Changing the ordinance would permit every business on Broadway the eventual use of EMC lighting, she said.

“I’m also uncomfortable with graphics,” Caldwell said. “… If I can see a gallon of milk with price, then I can also see boxer shorts with price, mainly on a model or something. I don’t want to have to figure out a way to monitor that.” | 341-2121