Businesses applaud sign rules review

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Business owners interviewed Thursday applauded the Board of Aldermen’s decision to hold a moratorium on enforcement of the sign ordinance until the board can review it for possible changes.

&uot;It’s been 10 years since it was passed, and I think any ordinance should be reviewed after 10 years to see if it fits our needs today,&uot; said Charles Yarbrough of Natchez Ford Lincoln Mercury.

The same year the ordinance was passed &045;&045; 1994 &045;&045; was the year Yarbrough had to appear before the Board of Aldermen to get a variance on the height of the dealership’s main sign.

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He recognizes that signs such as billboards should be restricted in historic districts to maintain the attractiveness of those areas but said &uot;we just can’t restrict (signs) so much in the area outside the historical district that it impairs business.&uot;

The sign ordinance, which was passed in 1994, regulates the size and placement of signs throughout the city. In late 2001, changes to the ordinance loosened restrictions on the number, size and placement of most signs while limiting the number and placement of temporary banners.

But the next year, city officials said a further revision of the ordinance would be a priority in the foreseeable future.

The 2001 revision allowed Jerry Smith of Mike’s Tire to advertise more brands on his store’s signs. But permitting and approval process spurred Smith’s interest in the sign ordinance &045;&045; including the aldermen’s Tuesday decision.

&uot;I hope they’ll take a good look at (the ordinance),&uot; Smith said. &uot;I understand they need to keep certain limits on signs, but I’m not sure I’m in complete agreement on how they calculate how much signage you can have.

&uot;I’m also not sure what purpose there is in limiting signage on the front of someone’s building as long as it’s in good taste,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ll be very interested in seeing what they come up with. I’ll watch it with interest.&uot;

Smith said he knows businesses locate in towns that have notoriously strict sign ordinances, such as Madison, but he doesn’t believes it’s a fair comparison.

&uot;We’re not a growing town like Madison,&uot; he said.

In unanimously passing the moratorium Tuesday, aldermen said they had gotten calls from local business owners who said the current ordinance is too restrictive.

&uot;We (aldermen) have all been contacted by the same business owners,&uot; said Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem David Massey, who introduced the moratorium motion Tuesday. &uot;One of (the callers) is one of the largest employers in Natchez.&uot;

However, aldermen who could be reached for comment later this week said they will have to review the ordinance in more detail before making specific recommendations on how to change it.

&uot;We just want to be more business-friendly,&uot; said Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux. &uot;Don’t try to make (business owners) feel like committing crime when they’re trying to locate a business here.

&uot;Rather than sitting here on high and giving the obstacles, why not work with people? We can do that and keep the beauty and cleanliness of our city at the same time,&uot; she said.

Arceneaux said did say, however, that she believes requests for signage &uot;don’t need to go to another board&uot; other than the Board of Aldermen. As it now stands, variance requests are first heard by the Planning Commission.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Deborah Martin could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Co-Chairwoman Karen Stubbs would say only that she is &uot;not happy at all&uot; with the Board of Aldermen’s decision, adding that &uot;if they have problems with the ordinance, they should ask us questions.&uot;

Alderman Jake Middleton said he voted against the ordinance originally, believing the city should make tackle smaller sign problems one at a time, such as signs at businesses that have closed or signs that are in disrepair.

As far as specific changes to the ordinance go, &uot;an example is that if a man has a sign permitted, then three months down the road he wants to say something different on it, he shouldn’t have to pay again for that sign,&uot; Middleton said.

&uot;There should be some limitations in historical areas. But we’ve created a monster in some parts of the sign ordinance, and we need come up with something that’s just a little more business-friendly,&uot; he said.

Suzanne Guido, co-owner of Bellemont Shake Shop, agrees. He and her husband, Paul, decided to fly a patriotic banner after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but were told &uot;you can’t fly it if you don’t have a permit,&uot; she said.

In addition, &uot;I don’t always agree with (rules on) how high signs should be. In downtown, billboards are out of place, but not on highways,&uot; she said.

&uot;I can understand the importance of having some guidelines, but how far do you go with it? I don’t know.&uot;