Freestanding sign policy proposals prompt temporary sign feedback

The entrance sign to the Surprise Civic Center (Independent Newsmedia file)
The entrance sign to the Surprise Civic Center (Independent Newsmedia file)

By Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

The first of four Surprise Planning and Zoning Commission presentations dissecting the city’s proposed sign code amendments on July 6 did not touch on the most contentious aspect of the policy — temporary signs.

Indeed the lengthy proposal on more permanent signage for businesses in the city brought about three speakers on behalf of realtors and the majority of their commentary was on the negative impacts since the City Council repealed the temporary sign policy in February.

Surprise Planner Robert Kuhfuss led the July 6 presentation on wall, free standing, window and monument signs. Most questions and feedback he received from the commissioners was for further clarification with specific examples, or for a bit more leeway with some proposed standards.

“To that point, in our stakeholder meetings one of the members of the sign industry that does signs throughout the Valley, he was of the opinion that generally speaking the sign code is kind of restrictive relative to some of the other communities. And that creates an artificial market constraint,” Mr. Kuhfuss said. “A lot of the feedback we’ve been getting has to do with the temporary signs. My hope was if we can create more permanent signage opportunity, then it helps the temporary sign problem.”

Realtors Nate Brill and Beverly Dragoo said the temporary sign policy repeal severely hampered their ability to promote open houses and other crucial aspects of their job. The commission will discuss temporary signs Aug. 3.

West Marciopa Association of Realtors Government Affairs Director Liz Recchia spoke along similar lines but also shared her group’s concerns with items discussed at the meeting, such as multi-business setups like a grocery store that includes a bank or coffee shop inside, as well as limitations on window signs.

“I think it’s somewhat encouraging in that I think there are people here that want the businesses to be able to do businesses in Surprise. I’m hopeful that when it comes to the temporary sign discussion that you guys are just as amenable to us realtors who have a transient business, because right now the sign code is — I would go so far as to say draconian,” Mr. Brill said.

Some of the new proposals may seem limiting on the surface, but are more flexible than they appear. For example commissioners Eric Cultum and Gisele Norberg said they found the proposed 15-foot maximum height of multi-business monument signs detrimental to attracting business.

Mr. Kuhfuss’ example was the sign for the Surprise Pointe center featuring AMC Surprise Pointe 14 and Uptown Alley. That sign is 25 feet and would not be changed by this policy.

“Considering what this is and what we have three, I think 25 feet is appropriate. If we make it only 15 and we have other areas where 25 would be appropriate, I think we’re limiting what they can have,” Ms. Norberg said.

But, Community Development Director Eric Fitzer said, large power centers like Surprise Pointe are covered in a separate policy under the city’s comprehensive sign program.

“When you have larger centers like this, it allows you to deviate from the code in certain respects. The way our current CSP is written it is fairly restrictive,” Mr. Fitzer said. “Basically you’re creating a separate sign code for your power centers.”

Also, Mr. Kuhfuss said, smaller shopping centers could apply for a larger sign and build it if the commission and City Council approve it. The language of the monument sign policy also allows for up to three feet of architectural embellishment.

Other sign topics discussed July 6 included:

• Building mounted wall signs would not be allowed to exceed 80 percent of the width of the building. A business would not be limited to one mounted sign.

But the city can decide to make different standards for single-tenant and multi-tenant buildings.

“What we had in mind were buildings north of here on Bell Road that not only face Bell Road, they face a parking lot. So do you want to penalize them because they really can only choose between one wall to have a sign on? That’s what we were thinking about,” Mr. Kuhfuss said.

Commissioner Dennis Smith said he can understand signs on the front and back of a building. But he would not feel comfortable with signs on all four sides.

• Another revision allows an increase on wall sign area based on distance from the road.

For example Sam’s Club is between 800 and 1,000 feet away from Bell Road. So it would be allowed 2.25 square feet of sign area per linear foot of building elevation.

Mr. Kuhfuss said the city can clarify to limit this to major thoroughfares. That would not solve an issue with, for example, the Ottawa University sign.

Mr. Smith said he would like to see more specific examples of sizes for far away signs. Commission chairman Ken Chapman suggested also considering buildings with landscaping challenges for the larger signs.

• Under another revision, buildings of five or more stories could have an additional sign. Mr. Smith said this change also would help large, multi-tenant buildings.

• Opinions varied on the proposal to limit a business’ window sign area to 40 percent of individual window pane.

For one thing, some window signs are promotional, and others are permanent.

“You’ll have people that push it to one extreme or the other. I don’t know what the right answer is. But to Eric’s point, there are people that have a sign in every window. I don’t know how you make it fair,” Mr. Smith said.

Commissioner Dennis Bash said corporations often produce those banners, and those might set a good baseline size. Mr. Kuhfuss said the city will look into that.

• Smaller monument signs, basically drive-thru menu signs and preview signs, are proposed to have a maximum area of 24 square feet. Mr Kuhfuss said that seemed a bit small according to feedback and may end up 32 square feet. He said the city will research the 6-foot height limit.

• Commissioners cheered the addition of roadway arch signs and projecting (blade) signs – added. Neither are used in the city now.

“We feel it would be a real opportunity to create some character,” Mr Kuhfuss said.
In addition to the temporary sign talk Aug. 3 the planning commission will have a presentation on:

• July 20 – Billboards, Freeway Signs, and Electronic Messaging Centers

• Sept. 7 – Open Discussion and Summary of Revisions

Residents and businesses can submit written comments to:
Robert H. Kuhfuss, AICP, City of Surprise Community Development Department
16000 Civic Center Plaza,
Surprise, AZ 85374

Or send electronically via or

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