STRASBURG — Following a lengthy discussion on business sign regulations, the town’s Ordinance Committee was split in its decision last week to forward a conversation on code to the Planning Commission.
Committee Chairman and Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup said he wanted to finish the discussion in committee later this month and then take the recommendation to the Town Council, rather than send the matter to the commission, which could then choose if it would to recommend the sign regulations to the council.
“This is to me the reason why this committee exists, is to deal with ordinances,” Terndrup said.
Town Manager Wyatt Pearson disagreed, saying that to make an amendment to the town’s Unified Development Ordinance, a public hearing must take place at a commission meeting. A recommendation from the commission is required and the Town Council needs a chance to hear the recommendation.
The Planning and Zoning Department is responsible for updating, interpreting and enforcing the town’s Unified Development Ordinance, according to a description of the department on the town’s website.
“It’s always been my preference to start with the Planning Commission,” Pearson said.
With the timing of town meetings as a point of contention in the matter, Terndrup said forwarding the discussion to the commission would delay a decision about the sign ordinance.
Planning and Zoning Administrator Leander “Lee” Pambid confirmed that the commission’s deadline for advertising a September public hearing ended on Thursday.
Suggested changes to the sign ordinance would include reducing over-signage and clutter in front of businesses and requiring businesses to keep their signs on site. Pambid suggested the Hotel Strasburg has a sign that might require changes because the sign is located off-site and also has “a considerable amount of neon that is non-conforming.”
Other changes to the ordinance could include defining the duration of political sign placement around town, when and where businesses can place sandwich boards on the sidewalk and what constitutes a historic sign.
The committee is consulting with the Berkley Group LLC on how signs played a part in Arizona court case Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which sought to clarify conditions under which municipalities may impose content-based restrictions on signage.
The commission, which will meet at 7 p.m. Sept. 24, won’t have a decision on the Ordinance Committee’s signage recommendations until at least the end of October, Terndrup argued in for the committee to take its recommendation directly to the Town Council. Commissioners will need time to discuss the material, he said, and look it over before deciding whether to forward a recommendation to the council.
“We could have a recommendation by the end of this month,” Terndrup said.
Though Terndrup later suggested the Planning Commission might hold its public hearing on the matter at a joint Town Council meeting, which has its next meeting on Oct. 8, committee member Kim Bishop pointed out that holding a public hearing before a committee discussion takes place would not serve to inform the public on which questions they should ask at the hearing.
As a citizen without prior information on the subject, she said, “I can’t be prepared to go into this meeting.”
Terndrup said asking the Planning Commission to have this discussion defeats the purpose of having the Ordinance Committee.
“The whole purpose of the committee was to be the starting point,” he said, and “to get the expertise of the council.”
Four of the eight Town Council members sit on the Ordinance Committee, he pointed out: Barbara Plitt, Emily Reynolds, Bishop and Terndrup.
“Why do we exist if it’s not to give half the council here an opportunity to, you know, rip through the ordinance, so that we don’t have staff spending hours and hours on a proposal and have council come back and say, ‘We don’t like it’?” asked Terndrup, who is also on the Planning Commission.
Pearson said moving the discussion from committee to commission to council is “adding a step onto an already long process.”
“You’re talking about adding a step; I think we’re saving a step,” he said. “What will happen is if it doesn’t start here first, then you’re not gonna get the public feel for whatever it is we’re talking about. And that then erupts during a public hearing or when you think the discussion is done because it hasn’t started yet. Because that audience, the public audience, hasn’t been heard yet.”
Reynolds pointed out that the commission doesn’t need an opinion to consider the matter.
“They’re just looking at the code,” she said. Furthermore, “they’re just advisory. We don’t have to follow their recommendation.”
“Logically,” she said, “it makes sense for them to meet first.” But if the committee meets first, she added, “I’m not sure it would make a difference.”
Conceding that the committee was split 2-2, Terndrup deferred to the town manager’s suggestion and said the committee will send the discussion to the Planning Commission.
The Ordinance Committee will meet for its regular fourth week meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 23, at 174 King St. to have an informal chat on a suggestion by the Strasburg Fire Department Restructuring Committee for a town code amendment.
Committee members Emily Reynolds, Kim Bishop, Barbara Plitt and Scott Terndrup were all present at Thursday’s meeting.