City to toughen sign codes

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The city wants to strengthen its sign code and may increase the amount of time staff spends enforcing it.

At Tuesday night's meeting, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would require signs that are not in compliance with the code to be taken down within 24 hours.

The current sign code allows for a 15-day correction period for signs that are out of compliance before additional fines are given. If the sign violation is corrected in that 15-day period, no action is taken.

After one resident's complaints about rampant sign violations, the city's planning department proposed changing the code for a shorter correction period on temporary signs. Planning department officials think that for temporary signs, such as those for real estate, sandwich boards and banners, the city should have a shorter enforcement period.

Along with a 24-hour correction period, the new ordinance would require no written warning or correction period for similar violations that occur within 12 months of the first violation.

As part of the ordinance, the council decided the responsible party should be the owner of the sign, not the property. The clarification would put the burden on real estate agents, who place the sign and not on the property owner, who could be out of town at the time of the violation.

At Tuesday's meeting, resident Stuart Orzack, who has repeatedly brought the issue of sign violations before the city, requested the city hire a part-time enforcement officer to enforce the regulations.

"It is a blight in all the neighborhoods I frequent and all the corridors I travel," Orzack said. "Unfortunately, the ordinance as written is toothless and ineffective."

City Manager Paul Hughes said changes in the planning department this fall could free up one staff person's time to put more hours into enforcing the sign code.

Orzack said he thinks Realtors are the worst violators.

Realtor and former Steamboat Springs Planning Commissioner Randall Hannaway said that when banner signs announcing grand openings or open houses are used, they draw traffic into a development. When those signs are down, there is less traffic.

"Banners can be very useful sales tools in new projects," he said.

The sign code is limiting, Hannaway said, noting that with so many people using banners or larger signs, not doing so could mean losing a competitive edge.

"Most people don't adhere to (sign ordinance restrictions)," he said. "And, it is not just real estate; it is everybody all over town."

Councilwoman Kathy Connell said the real estate community should be part of the discussion in enforcing the sign code.

"I do believe in the concept of community and working together in self-enforcing (the code)," Connell said. "We should invite them to the table."

---- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com.

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