By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
For Todd Milburn, a Peoria resident and Realtor for Desert Heritage Real Estate, signs are an important part of his job.
To drum up more business and bring more people into his office, which is near Thunderbird Road and Loop 101, and not visible from the main road, he decided to promote services such as rental properties or cost analysis.
So, he placed A-frame signs advertising these services on the main right-of-way. And it worked — he went from zero to eight new customers a week. But he was fined because using the signs are illegal in Peoria.
“It boggles my mind that if you are a politician wanting to get elected, you can put up as many signs you want. I am trying to make an honest living and putting up quality signs and taking them down every day, and that’s not allowable,” Mr. Milburn said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have money to pay a guy to twirl a sign on the street.”
Signs can make the difference between an aesthetically pleasing city and a local business’s survival.
Principal Planner Melissa Sigmund said city staff has been updating the city’s sign code for almost two years, and now it is going into its final stages, with a City Council vote scheduled for October.
Residents, local business owners and advocacy groups have given their input, and most say the process has been working, but that the proposed draft still needs some adjustments.
Ms. Sigmund said the new ordinance is a big undertaking with goals to increase legal enforceability, enhance user friendliness, promote a high-quality aesthetic environment, and give a balance of permanent and temporary signs.
The sign code has not been comprehensively updated since1989. Since then, Peoria has tripled in population. Legal and industry best practices related to signs have changed as well.
“We are essentially replacing the existing sign code with a brand new ordinance. The current code has had many amendments but it has not been overhauled, the terminology is outdated, it is not user-friendly and is very dense, so many people had trouble determining the category their sign would fall under,” she said. “We are looking to balance all the needs of the city residents and businesses and create an environment where all those can co-exist well.”
James Carpentier, director of state and local government affairs with the International Sign Association, said revamping a city’s sign ordinance is a big endeavor but it should be balanced and take into account all stakeholders, support and enhance commerce in Peoria, allow for safe and effective visibility and functionality of signs, as well as be legally sound.
It is important to keep the sign ordinance updated due to changing technology and to keep up with legal concerns, he said. “This code does include a number of changes that will enhance commerce in Peoria,” Mr. Carpentier said. “With some suggested changes, this code will provide additional support for the business community. This is more important now than ever with the increased competition from online commerce.”
Realtors are big stakeholders in the final sign code.
Susan Nicolson, a Realtor with DPR Realty and a board member of the Women’s Council of Realtors in the West Valley, said the real estate industry has enormous concerns with some of the regulations. The current policy for regulating temporary signs for events such as yard sales and open houses is the sign can be placed 48 hours before the event and removed within 12 hours after the event, four times per event, with no reference to the number of times a year.
The proposed code states that such a sign can be placed only four times per year and four times per instance.
Ms. Nicholson said some luxury properties take more than a year to sell.
Residents want open houses and it is truly a disservice to the residents if they can’t find it because there are not enough directional signs.
“There are not so many buyers for that type of property so they have longer marketing times. Clients would be upset with us if we only held four open houses a year for (luxury properties). There are some places within Peoria communities in the north — Sonora
Mountain Ranch, Westwing, Pleasant Valley, Cibola Vista — and we desperately need adequate sinage. To me, that means if your car needs to turn, I need an arrow (sign) letting you know you’re getting to the open house. It doesn’t do any good to place an open house sign at the opening of the community and have a for sale sign at the property if it can’t be found.”
Liz Recchia, government affairs director of West Maricopa Association of Realtors, said Peoria seems eager to create a sign ordinance that meets the needs of business and residents.
“I anticipate the city will come out with a workable sign ordinance, but like all things there may be individual concerns that need addressing as time passes and the city evolves.”
Supreme Court ruling
Cities across the state and nation have been reassessing their cities’ sign codes. Aside from the needed update, the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert requires the need for cities regulations of signs not be content-based.
Essentially, this means the code cannot regulate signs based on the signs’ messages or images, or what the sign “says,” Ms. Sigmund said.
This could pop up in the city’s regulation of political signs. They must follow the rules of the code, but under the new proposal, the city cannot regulate a sign based on the message.
“So that means if someone wants a sign that says ‘save the whales’ or another ideological message, it would be permitted in the right-ofway. It would have to meet all other requirements, but it would be allowed,” Ms. Sigmund said. “However, commercial and non- commercial signs can be treated differently. A non-commercial is required to be more heavily protected, while commercial speech can have more regulations.”