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Almost Done

Planning Commission wraps up revision of city’s sign ordinance

September 10, 2010
All signs point to a new ordinance, and the new ordinance won’t require changes to existing signs. The City of Warren Planning Commission held a three-hour work session Thursday night to tie up loose ends in a new sign ordinance the group has been working on for years. The goal of the meeting was to craft “a final draft for public comment prior to finalization by council,” commission member Dave Sobina said. For the most part, the regulations reflect what is already going on. “We’re reflecting reality rather than ignoring it,” Chairman Don Nelson said. “Everything’s going to be grandfathered.” The old ordinance was significantly out of date. “A lot of things have changed since 1981,” Nelson said. Electronic signs were among the types of signs not addressed previously. Such signs are now defined and, for the most part, allowed. In the city’s 28-block historic district, animated signs — signs “displaying movement either by physical motion or variable light intensity and color” — and internally illuminated signs are not allowed. In creating the new City of Warren sign ordinance, the commission made extensive use of a sign ordinance crafted in Pottstown, Pa. The members considered, but eventually opted to remove, some elements of the Pottstown ordinance, including prohibitions against: roof signs, signs that advertise an activity or business that is not conducted or produced on the premises, revolving signs, signs with reflective backgrounds, and animated signs. Throughout the city, signs may be made of wood, metal, stone, or “other material as determined by the city...” according to the draft. “Sign materials should complement the original construction materials and architectural style of the building facade... Colors that complement the color of the building should be used.” The maximum size for the primary business sign is based on the frontage the building occupies on the primary street. The example used by commission members was Country Fair on Pennsylvania Avenue East. Only the Pennsylvania Avenue frontage would count in terms of sign size determination even though the business also has frontage on both Buchanan and Prospect streets. Signs may be four square feet for every linear foot up to 30 feet of frontage. For each linear foot of frontage from 30 to 100, the sign may increase in size by three square feet. Two more square feet may be added to the total size of the primary sign for each foot from 100 to 150 of frontage. A building with 100 feet of frontage may have a primary sign that is no more than 330 square feet., while a building with 150 feet of frontage may have a sign up to 430 square feet. Neither the height of the building nor the number of businesses in it matters in terms of the size of the sign. “Altitude has nothing to do with the calculations,” commission member Ken Holtz said. Supplemental signs — temporary promotional signs — may be posted. The maximum allowable area of supplemental signs is 25 percent of the allowable maximum for primary signs. So a business with 30 feet of frontage may have a 120-square-foot primary sign and 30 square feet of supplemental signage. Sandwich boards count against supplemental sign size limits. The supplemental sign limits are the same in the historic district as they are throughout the city. Signs that are inside a building, including those painted or otherwise affixed to the windows, are not subject to the ordinance. With the agreement of the property owner, “off-premises directional” signs — those directing passersby to a business at another location — are allowed, but count against the allowed signage for the business at which they are located. Commission members decided to allow murals in the city and left enforcement of maintenance of them up to city council on a case-by-case basis. “We’ve drafted what we believe is a very much improved sign ordinance,” Nelson said. “I think we’ve done what we need to do.” The commission will meet at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at the municipal building at which time members expect to schedule a public hearing on the issue of signs. Nelson said he plans to send copies of the draft to Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Jim Decker and GRO-Warren Executive Director Chris Cheronis to get their input and to distribute to business owners for consideration. Information that comes back to the commission from the public meeting and from Decker and Cheronis may be utilized in the group’s final draft for submission to city council. “The goal is to have it go before council in November,” Sobina said.


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