Mission explores changes to regulations that could affect long-standing business signage

Planning Commissioner Scott Babcock said the Village Inn sign was a good example of why he wanted to be cautious about stepping up regulation of pole signage in the city. Photo via Yelp.
Planning Commissioner Scott Babcock said the Village Inn sign was a good example of why he wanted to be cautious about stepping up regulation of pole signage in the city. Photo via Yelp.

By Jerry LaMartina

Mission leaders have started to dig into the weeds of what it would take to declutter the city’s business areas from the kinds of imposing signage that have drawn complaints in recent years — but concerns persist about how such changes might affect longtime businesses.

At a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission Monday, officials discussed proposed ordinance changes that had been laid out an Oct. 26 work session, focusing on marquee signs, monument signs in the Main Street District 1, window signs, electronic signs, temporary signs, pole signs and costumed characters.

During the Planning Commission’s regular meeting Monday, Chairman Mike Lee asked questions about how the behavior of costumed characters could be regulated under the city’s loitering ordinance.

“If Mike Lee decides that he wants to dress up as the Statue of Liberty as a Mission resident and (walk) down the street, what would constitute that being loitering?” Lee said.

“That’s not my specialty, so I’m not going to try to answer that,” City Planner Danielle Sitzman said. “But you’re not getting paid to do it.”

“The concern,” Lee said, “is that (it’s) because I’m advertising a business or I’m a distraction or it’s a safety hazard? … I mean, I don’t like them, but it is sometimes amusing to sit there and watch them.”

During the public comments segment of the Planning Commission’s regular meeting, former Mission Mayor Laura McConwell, who spoke as the lawyer representing The Mission Bank’s owner, Valley View Bancshares, said that Valley View had found itself “in a little bit of a pickle” regarding the sign ordinance. The company recently changed the name of its nine banks to Security Bank of Kansas City and has four pole signs at its banks in Mission. The sign ordinance requires removal of a pole sign when a business changes its name.

“I do understand that the goal is to work at ultimately phasing out some of the pole signs,” McConwell said. “We have had some pole sign clutter in Mission, and over the years that has been eliminated. …

“Nothing about the operation of Mission Bank has changed,” she said. “This sign-maintenance ordinance does not allow them to just reface these existing signs. That’s an impairment to this business that’s been in Mission … longer than I’ve been around, and I’ve been around a long time.”

McConwell said that she didn’t think Valley View Bancshares’ change of its banks’ names constituted “(thumbing) their noses at the design ordinance or the community in any way” and asked that the company and others in similar circumstances not be penalized.

In the joint work session, Planning Commissioner Scott Babcock cited the iconic Village Inn sign as an example.

“That sign’s been there since the mid-‘60s,” Babcock said. “He takes very good care of it. It’s very appropriate for where it’s located. … And it’s part of the city. And it’s a fixture of the city. … Why would we tell him to get rid of this sign? Now, if he leaves, take it down.”

Ward 3 Councilwoman Debbie Kring said in the joint work session that the sign ordinance should be written and enforced consistently, and that “the exception has to be based on some set of criteria that could be applied across the board.”

Planning Commissioner Frank Bruce said in the joint work session that he thought it was “the responsibility of every single person in this room to do everything we can to support our business community.”

“That (sign) is a high-revenue generator for the Village Inn,” Bruce said. “If you want to get your driver’s license renewed, you can drive right by there and not have any idea that the driver’s license bureau is right down there in a hole that you can’t see from Johnson Drive. So, many of those signs are really lifeblood to those people.”

The Mission Planning Commission will continue discussion of the proposed ordinance changes at its Feb. 27 meeting.