Monday, May 10, 2010

Signs: My Emily Litella Moment

The appearance of a lengthy sign ordinance last week was initially intriguing, because it seemed to be banning the ubiquitous neon and flashing LED signs that are all over the business district. My blog post attracted many comments, many of the same "what's all this fuss" ilk as my initial reaction.

Over the weekend, I looked up the old sign ordinance on Rashid Burney's web site, where he has the Municipal Code and other documents posted. A lot of the language from the 2002 ordinance sounded suspiciously familiar. Today I checked with Planning Director Bill Nierstedt, who put the ordinance together. Turns out it is mostly the same as the old one, but instead of laboriously picking out details of changes, the language "repeal and replace" is used.

Nierstedt said the main difference is that a chart is included, covering all the sign rules.

So if certain signs are already prohibited, why do we see them all over?

The city official who must enforce the prohibitions is the Zoning Officer. After former Zoning Officer Jocelyn Pringley passed away several years ago, Nierstedt inherited the role and all its many responsibilities. This in addition to his heavy burden as Planning Director, which requires not only dealing with developers and property owners who want to build or change things, but also attending many night meetings. As the organization has flattened, Nierstedt's tasks have expanded tremendously.

So store owners with neon or flashing signs need not expect to be grandfathered in. Their signs have already been illegal since at least 2002. And with Nierstedt's burgeoning duties, perhaps they just can't be a priority. In the Special Improvement District alone, there are about 400 businesses. Checking on each one and following through on violations could be a very time-consuming project.

Unless this duty is statutorially assigned to the Zoning Officer, perhaps Inspections could take it on. Attractive signage is a key element of any downtown. Or if neon and sparkly signs are not all that bad in some folks' eyes, maybe they should be permitted. Most likely merchants have been approached by vendors of such signs and the business owners simply don't know what is permitted in Plainfield.

Reassignment of enforcement, rethinking of the rules and merchant education are some future possibilities for proper signage. The last time there was a consistent effort to unify signage was way back in the days of the Sign & Facade program. Maybe it's time to take another look at the issue.

--Bernice Paglia


Blogger Randy Schaeffer said...

Bernice -- Great community service on your part. Thanks.


3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why can't they tackle some real problems in Plainfield? Abandon properties in plainfield would be a better first! If inspections actually cited these folks they would either bring them up to code or lose them on liens.

8:44 PM  

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