Task force can't crack sign code

The Downtown Task Force will not finish making recommendations for changes to Ashland's restrictive sign code by the end of this month as Mayor John Morrison had hoped.

Instead, the task force will meet at least twice in August to discuss thorny sign code issues, including a city ban on three-dimensional signs.

Business owners became upset when the city issued dozens of letters at the beginning of the tourist season saying such objects as the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory teddy bear and the Black Sheep lion statue were illegal. On July 1, the City Council agreed to appoint a task force. Morrison wanted the group to meet weekly and fast-track recommendations for possible changes back to the council by the end of the month.

"We've all found this is a lot more complicated," Pam Hammond, co-owner of Paddington Station and the task force chair, said on Monday &

which originally was scheduled to be the last meeting date.

Although the task force isn't finished with its work, members have reached agreement on several measures that could give businesses more freedom.

Businesses that are tucked away down alleys, pedestrian walkways and side streets could have overhead signs that jut out 24 inches from the wall, instead of the current 18 inches.

In another step aimed at helping hard-to-find businesses, task force members agreed that the city should put up signs without specific business names, like "shops," "spa" or "galleries" with arrows.

Individual businesses that don't have street frontage also could pay the city to have their specific business names put up. For example, the Blue Giraffe Day Spa Salon could pay to have its name installed on a post. People at nearby businesses often have to direct visitors to the spa, which can be reached through a city-owned parking lot on Water Street.

"We have given people without business frontage two really good options for increasing their visibility," said task force member George Kramer, a historic preservation consultant.

Benches, flower pots OK

Task force members also agreed that the city should allow flower pots, benches and other "functional items" in a two foot zone on the sidewalk next to a business's outer wall.

That area has been named the "shy zone" because people tend to walk that far away from walls and windows, Kramer said.

Black Sheep's lion statue could qualify as functional because it keeps the restaurant's door from swinging wide open and hitting people standing by the wall.

Any objects in the two foot zone on the sidewalk would become the property of the city so that businesses wouldn't have to pay for a permit, City Attorney Richard Appicello proposed.

Kramer said that if the city requires business owners to apply for a permit or, alternately, sign a donation form, businesses might not put out flower pots and benches.

Task force members agreed to send the issue of proliferating newspaper racks straight to the City Council without further discussion. Members agreed city staff should make sure existing racks comply with Ashland Municipal Code requirements that they be 18 inches from the curb and also have six feet of room between the racks and any permanent obstructions. The city will look into legal issues about the types of publications allowed and whether racks can be removed if they contain no materials.

Appicello said regulating newspaper racks can be problematic.

"Whenever a city tries to do it, all the newspapers come out of the woodwork," he said.

No employee parking ban

Task force members also turned their attention to complaints about enforcement of the city's ban on employee parking downtown.

They voted to send a proposed ordinance to the City Council that would repeal the ban. Employers would work with their employees to try and get them to avoid parking in the downtown voluntarily. Some business people have complained that they were ticketed for parking downtown even though they were shopping or eating, not working.

The proposed ordinance would crack down on people who have racked up $250 in unpaid parking tickets. The city would send a letter to the offender's address giving 14 days notice that the person's vehicle will be towed if the tickets are not paid. A placard posted on the vehicle would give 24 hours notice of the towing.

Several task force members said they didn't want the city to adopt booting of vehicles, when a device is placed on a wheel so a vehicle can't be driven.

The rationale for proposing that the city allow booting of vehicles was that it would allow the offender time to pay before his or her vehicle is towed, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

Appicello said some people never get their cars back after they are towed because of the cost.

Task force member and Ashland Planning Commissioner John Stromberg said booted vehicles would make the city look unfriendly and aggressive.

"It takes away from the ambience," he said, advocating that the city allow towing of vehicles instead.

Dave Dotterer, also on the task force and Planning Commission, said towing the vehicle of a repeat offender would open up a parking space, while a booted vehicle takes up a space.

The task force will meet again at 2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 4, and 2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 11, in the Siskiyou Room of the Community Development Building, located at 51 Winburn Way across from the entrance to Lithia Park.

The earliest the task force's complete report of proposed changes could go to the City Council is Sept. 2 because the council is not having its regular meeting on Aug. 19.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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