November 10, 2011 |

Sign ordinance making way through assembly

An ordinance to permit off-premises or "sandwich" signs as a conditional use will go to the Haines Borough’s government affairs and services committee, following weeks of assembly discussion about balancing business with an orderly downtown.

Members of the assembly and Haines Borough Planning Commission have taken up the ordinance since it was introduced in June and have questioned whether the signs meet state regulations.

Borough code prohibits the signs, with an exception for "temporary off-premises signs advertising community events sponsored by a public, civic or nonprofit organization; provided, that such signage is in place for no longer than 10 days."

"The (proposed) change goes back to that idea that we either have to enforce the code or change the code," said planning commissioner Rob Goldberg.

"We’ve got these off-premises signs that no one has really enforced, so the borough either has to tell everybody to take them down or change the code to allow them to be there. What the change was going to do was to make them legal by conditional use permit, and that will prevent them from just proliferating everywhere."

Resident Roy Lawrence for several years has advertised his Second Avenue ivory necklace and Native artifacts business with a sign near the bank.

"When I first put that sign out there at the bank, my business increased 25 percent, so it’s a big deal for me," Lawrence said.

He said the sign only is in place during the summer tourism season. Lawrence this week said he was not aware the assembly was considering changing signage code.

The assembly on Oct. 25 directed the ordinance to the government affairs and services committee after a fourth public hearing without resolving the question. The planning commission considered amendments earlier that month.

"This is one ordinance that I would very much like to see resolved, once and for all," said borough manager Mark Earnest. "We can be done with the discussion on this one, get something in place, and if we need to continue work on other portions of it, then we’ll be open to that."

Assembly members Steve Vick and Joanne Waterman both asked Earnest if there were specific issues the committee should address.

"I guess it’s a little unfortunate that the planning commission didn’t just write us a report telling us where this fit and what their concerns were and how it fit in with what they’re doing, but I’d be happy to meet with them to do that," said Vick, committee chair.

Earnest said he would like the committee to have "general discussion" to "have any unresolved issues addressed and discussed, with specific language worked out at that level and brought back to the assembly."

At meetings, Vick has indicated he would vote against the final version of the ordinance.

"When I first moved to Alaska, I actually got my voter registration because on the ballot was whether or not billboards should be legal in Alaska," he said in an interview this week. "I got my voter registration card specifically so I could vote against that because I didn’t want billboards to be legal; I thought it was unique of Alaska to have one of the few places in the country you can drive without seeing billboards everywhere."

But in the interview this week, Vick said he is open to voting in favor of the ordinance.

"I think I still hold that (billboard) sentiment for the most part, though this is a little different; I understand that," he said. "Some people approached me about their ideas on why this is different, but I’m not totally sold yet."

According to the borough’s existing sign ordinance, regulations are in place to "ensure the business community quality signs to adequately identify and market their businesses" but also "to minimize the possible adverse effect of signs on adjacent public and private property."

Code currently prohibits portable signs, including sandwich signs, on public property such as streets, sidewalks and alleys.

There is a specific exemption for Portage Street, immediately uphill of the cruise ship dock. That exemption exists "until such time as the borough assembly shall determine that traffic patterns have changed rendering this exception no longer advisable."

Off-premises signs on Portage Street must be at least three feet from the curb and "adjacent to the property on which the business advertised on the sign is located."