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Shops cry foul over sign enforcement

 


Portage Street business owners are squaring off with the Haines Borough over recent enforcement of signage rules on Fort Seward’s primary business route.

Sarah Jaymot, owner of Sarah J’s Shoppe, came to last week’s Commerce Committee meeting to complain about a police order to move her sandwich sign off the Portage Street sidewalk. Scott Doddridge, co-owner of Dejon Delights, also attended to express concern over the enforcement.

Code prohibits sandwich signs on public property including streets, sidewalks and alleys, except for on Portage Street. However, signs on Portage Street must be at least three feet from the curb.

Jaymot took to Facebook to vent about the July 1 incident. “We will be open today, despite the haters trying to make me remove my open sign. Don’t worry, I will figure out a perfect spot for my small, lovely sign to go. In the meantime, just keep coming on in and pissing off (the haters) that we are successful and busy,” Jaymot wrote.

“Great use of this business’s sales tax contribution,” she added.

Sgt. Simon Ford also visited Wild Iris owner Fred Shields and told him to move his sandwich sign, which Shields said he has put in the same spot for the past 16 years.

“Most of my business comes from the cruise ships, and when people come off the cruise ship they need to see there’s something up the hill and that sign tells them that,” Shields said. “It shows this is a business corridor.”

“My sign on that street is my livelihood, and if you want to see me riled, go after my livelihood,” he added.

The assembly has been discussing sign issues in recent weeks following Mayor Stephanie Scott’s introduction of an ordinance regarding off-premises signs. The ordinance would allow businesses to place signs on private property not belonging to that business, with the owner’s permission.

The ordinance, however, was sent to the commerce committee, which decided it was going to tackle the entire section of code devoted to signs, said chair Debra Schnabel.

“The bigger issue right now is making sure we have a simple, easy-to-read ordinance that everyone understands. The second thing is to decide whether we want to change the existing law and allow off-premises signage,” Schnabel said.

The Portage Street sandwich signs issue arose when assembly member George Campbell mentioned the sign discussions to Sgt. Ford several weeks ago.

“The question was raised whether signs could be blocking sidewalks,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he didn’t direct Ford to do anything, but just mentioned the issue in casual conversation.

“Signs that are obstructing pedestrian and road traffic are a problem,” Campbell said. “Our biggest issue with signs is safety.”

Shields called the situation “very, very improper.” “Assemblymen do not direct borough employees,” he said.

Shields said after Ford came to speak with him, chief Bill Musser also came and paid him a visit. “(Ford) thought it wasn’t proper, and the police chief thought it was fine,” Shields said.

Musser said he has discussed the issue with manager David Sosa and “no further enforcement action is in process at this time.”

Mayor Scott confirmed enforcement will cease until the sign ordinance issue is resolved. “Right now everything is just status quo,” she said.

“(Shields’) sign is illegal right now. (Jaymot’s) sign is illegal. And the code has been that way forever. They just simply didn’t consult the code, or decided to overlook it,” Scott said.

Scott said she supports sandwich shop signs, both in the fort and downtown.

“I think they are charming, actually,” Scott said. “A hand-lettered sign appeals to me. It feels not as slick as other commercial signs.”

Though she enjoys the signs, Scott said she understands why police decided to enforce the code and that it’s the assembly’s duty to change the code if it doesn’t reflect what the public wants.

“Is that a good way to run an organization? To have rules that you overlook? I don’t think it is. I think you change the rules. If the common practice is to overlook it, then there is something wrong with the rule,” Scott said.