Natchez’s zoning board seeks more ‘business-friendly’ restrictions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 19, 2001

In the tire business, being able to advertise your brands is everything, according to Jerry Smith, co-owner of Mike’s Tire.

But the size of the freestanding sign allowed by Natchez’s sign ordinance is too small to allow the new business to advertise all six brands of tires it sells.

&uot;So we only advertise three of the brands on there now – but we were all set to go before the Planning Commission to get a variance for a bigger sign,&uot; Smith said. &uot;But we’ve decided to hold off on that now.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

That’s because on Thursday, the Natchez Planning Commission voted to recommend changes to the city’s sign ordinance, which was passed in 1994. The Natchez Board of Aldermen is expected to vote on the recommendations in its Aug. 28 meeting.

The proposed changes would increase the size and number of signs businesses could erect while better spelling out the requirements for certain types of signs, such as temporary signs and banners.

&uot;It would be better for business, that’s for sure,&uot;&160;Smith said of the proposed changes.

That is the idea, said Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith – &uot;to identify some of the ordinances that put an undue burden on businesses and make them more business-friendly.&uot;

One of the most &uot;business-friendly&uot; changes, the mayor said, would increase maximum size of a wall-mounted sign from 7.5 percent of the area of the building’s first two stories to 10 percent.

Another would allow businesses to erect wall-mounted signs on the sides of their buildings as well as the front. That could be done as long as the second sign was no bigger than 10 percent of the area of the first two stories of the building’s secondary facade.

Nancy Barfoot, manager of Blockbuster Video, said the city’s more restrictive sign ordinance was just one reason the business’ owner decided to go with a smaller sign. &uot;One reason was that the bigger sign would cost $35,000,&uot; Barfoot said. But if the city’s ordinance would have allowed a bigger sign, she added, &uot;I’m sure he would have eaten the cost and got the bigger sign anyway.&uot;

&uot;I&160;think it would be a good idea (to change the sign ordinance),&uot; she said. &uot;We need some form of regulations, but I&160;think a lot of businesses need bigger signs, including ours.&uot;

Also with the proposed changes the city probably would not have to grant so many variances, said Assistant City Planner Gretchen Kuechler. Since January 1999, the city has processed 11 variances.

Those included eight variance requests regarding freestanding signs and two requests to erect signs on a business’ second wall – variances that probably could have been avoided with the changes, she said.

Natchez aldermen have been briefed on the proposed changes, but many said they still need to study them further prior to the Aug. 28 meeting.

Still, all those who could be reached believe that Natchez’s sign ordinance does not need to restrict businesses unnecessarily.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux said she sees the need to have some type of sign ordinance to make sure the city does not become cluttered. &uot;You want to have an attractive community,&uot; she said.

At the same time, however, she likes the idea of changing the ordinance itself &uot;rather than constantly granting variances. Our ordinance needs to be user-friendly.&uot;

&uot;You have to realize that every time you enact an ordinance, you go into it with the idea that it’s not perfect and that changes have to be made at times,&uot; said Ward 4 Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West. &uot;But some of the language in the ordinance is business-prohibitive, and we need to make it business-friendly,&uot; he said.

In most cases, a business’ plans should not be changed just because of the size of its sign, said Ward 2 Alderman Ricky Gray. &uot;I don’t see where the problem is,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;As long as it’s not in the historical district, these other things shouldn’t matter.&uot;

Ward 6 Alderman Jake Middleton said he voted against the city’s sign ordinance in 1994. &uot;You want your sign ordinance to be business-friendly,&uot; Middleton said. But he said he wanted to study the proposed changes in more detail before making further comments.

Alderwoman Sue Stedman of Ward 3 and Alderman David Massey of Ward 5 could not be reached for comment.