Our View: Signs a good short-term move

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Editorial Board, May and June 2013

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Tom Ross, reporter

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A proposal to allow downtown Steamboat Springs businesses to display sandwich boards through the busy summer season is a smart short-term compromise that promises to provide long-term guidance.

Steamboat’s sign code ordinance long has been a thorn in the side of many business owners, particularly downtown restaurants that argue that their inability to promote their businesses with markers in the public right-of-way puts them at a competitive disadvantage to retail businesses that are allowed to set up display racks, props and other items to entice potential customers. Portable signs are banned by the city’s sign ordinance, but items such as display racks are permitted under other ordinances or with revocable permits from the city.

It’s not the first time restaurateurs have urged the city to allow sandwich boards to be displayed on sidewalks in front of their eateries. The sandwich boards could, for example, advertise daily specials. In past years, city officials have steered clear of allowing sandwich boards and easel signs over concerns of impeding pedestrians and detracting from the appearance of Lincoln Avenue’s shopping and dining district.

Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs is taking another approach, and one we think the City Council should stand behind. Gibbs, during a meeting with downtown stakeholders last week, presented a temporary plan that would allow portable signs downtown through Sept. 30. The council could take up the issue as soon as this Tuesday.

Gibbs’ proposal includes some noteworthy provisions: allowing only one portable sign per street frontage; requiring a revokable permit for all signs in the public right-of-way; mandating that signs be adjacent to the building; requiring 6 feet of clear passage along sidewalks where signs are present; requiring business owners to remove the signs when the business is closed.

There’s also talk of standardizing the appearance of the signs, and Gibbs brought a prototype that would allow businesses room for creativity while maintaining the same basic size and shape for all portable signs downtown.

We support Gibbs’ proposal, and for one overriding reason: a summer-long trial will provide the best chance for city officials, businesses, residents and visitors to evaluate the long-term impacts of allowing portable signs downtown. If done correctly, we think sandwich board-like signs offer great promise in that they help both customers and businesses.

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