Mission working toward policy shift to address signs that are ‘ugly as they can be’


By Jerry LaMartina

The Mission City Council is making progress toward an amended sign ordinance in the wake of persistent complaints, mostly about temporary signs.

At a work session Wednesday night, the council and other city officials discussed proposed changes to the ordinance, which City Planner Danielle Murray detailed. The next steps will be to send a letter to all businesses that have an occupational license, post a draft of the proposed ordinance changes on the city’s website, hold meetings with business owners and then report their comments to the council.

“We didn’t want to do a wholesale rewrite of the sign code at this point because it should be a more inclusive community process,” Murray said.

The proposed ordinance changes involve marquee signs, monument signs in the Main Street District 1, window signs, electronic signs, temporary signs, pole signs and costumed characters.

“Several years ago when we created those Main Street districts, monument signs were not allowed,” Murray said. “The district was supposed to replicate the feel of downtown, row buildings close together near the street. There were some orphan properties in this district that could have monument signs and get a variance. We’re allowing monument signs in those districts now. If you happen to be a parcel that does have some space between the front of your building and the public right of way, then you could be considered for a monument sign. What we’re really looking for is a certain kind of development, not whether you can have a monument sign.”

The current sign ordinance limits window signs to 10 percent of the window’s area. The proposed change would allow half the window to have a sign. Electronic signs are currently prohibited except for clocks and thermometers; the proposed change would allow pricing signs at gas stations, too. Temporary signs would be limited to three 60-day periods per year per business.

Costumed characters, such as Statue of Liberty waving at drivers in front of a tax-preparation business, currently are allowed, but Murray said they could be prohibited by redefining “attention-getting devices” in the ordinance to include people in costumes and “those blow-up inflatable guys—anything that waves or has a flag or a light.”

“A sign isn’t just words,” she said. “It’s pictures, graphics, (etc.) … The connection is that they’re doing it to draw attention to something else, a business. We would have our land-use attorney confirm that we’re not impeding people’s rights to dress as clowns or whatever.”

Pole signs have been prohibited in the city since 2003, and 24 remain, though four of those—for Village Inn, Pride Cleaners, Johnny’s BBQ and Popeye’s—fall under a special 2009 amendment, which allows more maintenance for them than for the others. Pole signs must come down if the business changes or if they deteriorate significantly.

The city attorney recommended allowing existing pole signs to remain for seven years from the time an amended ordinance is passed, Murray said.

Ward 1 Councilman Tom Geraghty called pole signs “as ugly as they can be.”

“I just drove down (from) 75th to 87th and they’re everywhere,” Geraghty said. “They disguise pole signs to make them look like monument signs. And then I drove around Mission. I think 2023 (seven years from now) is a long time. I’d like to have them torn down tomorrow. They’re a homely, ugly thing for our city. It’s like Branson in Mission. … I’d rent a bulldozer this weekend.”

Ward 1 Councilman Pat Quinn said he thought giving business owners seven years to take down their pole signs was fair.

“We don’t want to make it hard on businesses,” Quinn said. “I’d be interested in trying to encourage them to make the change sooner by offering them some help financially. It may take the city setting aside $40,000 or something. If they take down their pole sign in the first year and replace it with something, we give them $2,500 to help toward that cost. Second year, $2,000; $1,500 the third year; $1,000 the fourth year; (and) $500 the fifth year. After that, if they waited longer than that, they’re on their own.”

Some council members also suggested that available beautification grants could be used to help business owners pay for removing pole signs and installing new ones.