Oregon City Council on May 13 approved changes to the municipal sign code in response to business concerns that it was too strict.
“We’ve been working on this for months,” Administrator Mike Beazley said after the meeting. “We basically wanted to respond to the business community that had challenged us.”
For years, the city has received complaints about ambiguities and inconsistencies in the sign code, according to Beazley. Local businesses and sign contractors have expressed frustration with the difficulty in understanding the requirements.
“Ambiguities in the code have made it difficult for business, sign contractors, and even our own permit staff to make judgments about what the code allows or disallows,” said Beazley.
The challenging language and frustration with compliance have focused on code provisions for free standing signs, which were clarified as part of the sign code amendment.
In the last couple of months, the city met with businesses and sign contractors and developed a set of changes to help clarify the code while remaining faithful to the public policy objectives in the original code, said Beazley.
The most important change, according to Mayor Mike Seferian, is relaxing the rule against backlit signs.
For years, Seferian said he had heard complaints from new businesses, particularly national chains, about the restrictions of backlit signs.
“There were nationally syndicated chains with signs all over the United States and the world that have backlit signs. But when they came to Oregon, they found they couldn’t put up their trademark sign, which had to be altered. If we are allowing changeable copy, why not allow businesses to light the background of their signs? It defies logic,” Seferian said after the meeting.
Penn Station East Coast Subs, which was recently built on Navarre in a small strip mall, was the most recent franchise to learn that its backlit sign did not fall under the regulations of the sign code, said Seferian.
“Businesses were actually ordering their signs, went to put them up, and found they were non-compliant. Ignorance of the law is no reason to change the law. But I think they took it for granted that their signs, which were up across the country, would be compliant because most cities permitted them and they are so common,” said Seferian. He gave the green light to Penn Station to install the sign anyway because he was confident council would pass the ordinance that amended the code.
“I had spoken to all seven council members, and knew they were going to vote for it,” said Seferian.
The new flexibility in the sign code does not compromise the signs’ appearance in the community, said Seferian.
“There is enough in the sign code that protects the integrity of signs in general so they actually look nice. Nobody is throwing together a sign that is shabby. It doesn’t do anything for the community. We still hold the actual structure and design of the sign to a high standard. We’re just allowing them to display their message better. We need to catch up to the times. We want it to be easy to do business in Oregon.”