WASHINGTON — Signs for businesses that no longer physically exist are the targets of an ordinance amendment under consideration by City Council.
That should make some residents happy.
“Most of our city’s elected officials, myself included, have heard from residents who consider these unused signs an eyesore,” said Mayor Gary Manier.
If the ordinance amendment passes — it’s expected to be on council’s March 7 agenda after a first reading Feb. 15 — a sign that advertises or formerly advertised a business that hasn’t been in operation for at least 60 days and no longer has a building on the property would be considered obsolete.
The city would have the authority to ask a property owner to remove an obsolete sign within 30 days after notification. If it doesn’t happen, the city can have the sign taken down with any “reasonable cost” filed as a lien against the property.
A sign for a closed business can remain if it advertises the sale or lease of the property, the sign hasn’t been enlarged, and the building is there.
Jon Oliphant, Washington’s planning and development director, said the former Taco Bell on Washington Road (U.S. Business Route 24) meets these criteria.
Three nearby Washington Road signs would become obsolete signs under the ordinance amendment. Two advertise businesses that were damaged by the November 2013 tornado and later demolished.
Signs for John Bearce Suzuki Cobra, LaGondola Spaghetti House and a Clark gas station remain on otherwise empty lots. The auto dealership and restaurant were tornado victims.
Bearce said he wants to rebuild and expand his dealership, but he’s still negotiating with his insurance company.
“We have building plans drawn up,” he said.
The manager of the LaGondola restaurant didn’t return calls asking for comment.
Oliphant said the LaGondola property owner is considering what to do with the property.
“There is definitely a lot of potential with the Bearce Suzuki and LaGondola properties, and we look forward to development on each of them,” he said.
Along Washington Road, a sign for Chef’s Catering, which was damaged by the tornado, falls into a gray area under the ordinance amendment. One sign panel is being used for Chef’s Catering but the other two panels are blank.
“We’ve asked the property owner to either remove or reuse the blank panels,” Oliphant said. “In all honesty, the sign is less of a concern than others because part of it is in use.”
Manier and Oliphant both said the city does not have a vendetta against property owners with an obsolete sign.
“We need a way for our staff to deal with obsolete signs,” Manier said. “We realize a few are the result of the tornado. We hope the timing of the ordinance amendment is understood by our property owners. We want to work with property owners and help Washington continue to look great.”
Oliphant said the ordinance amendment gives the city a tool to deal with obsolete signs “and isn’t intended to pick on a particular sign or business.”
The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing on the ordinance amendment Feb. 3 and unanimously recommend approval.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Stein Time blog on pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.