Chamber takes on sign rules
Although Douglas County’s sign ordinance hasn’t changed in about eight years, the demographics have, said Mimi Moss, county planning and economic development manager.
And the laws need to catch up in order to keep businesses alive, according to more than 25 business owners and officials who attended a sign ordinance workshop hosted by the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Authority on Wednesday.
“A few signs are a lot more pleasant than a lot of empty buildings,” said Roxanne Stangle, owner of Tumblewind Antiques in Minden.
Reasons Moss cited for having sign ordinances are safety and aesthetics.
“We want businesses to be able to advertise their business, but the towns don’t want to see sign clutter,” said Moss. “A-frame signs are typically put on a sidewalk. They are a safety hazard. They can fall over, people can fall over them and handicapped people can’t get around them.”
A-frame or sandwich board signs are prohibited, but business owners said they are most noticed by drivers in the fast-moving traffic along Highway 395.
“I just had a lady come in and say she couldn’t find me,” Linda Finch, owner of Eddy Street Book Exchange, which opened in March, said in an interview on Wednesday.
“At the same time a man was here who said he wouldn’t have known I was here except he saw my A-frame sign two weeks ago.”
Finch said her sign had been placed on her property out of the way of passers-by.
At the Wednesday morning meeting Finch said she had customers participate in a survey the first month she was open and 95 percent of them said they knew about her business from her sign.
“And 100 percent say their revenue normally goes to Reno or Carson City bookstores,” she added.
Gloria Gero, owner of A Gourmet Sewing Co. in Minden, said her weighted portable sign could be displayed in an area that doesn’t prohibit pedestrians from walking, and could be taken in every day when she closes.
“Even if it was only a temporary permit, that would be better than no sign at all,” she said.
Moss said that one solution is using a projection sign, attached to the outside wall and facing oncoming traffic, like many of the older businesses use.
Off-site signs are also at issue, especially following the removal of the Helping Hands Thrift Shop sign in March, which Meeks Lumber had allowed to be permanently placed on their property along Highway 395. Helping Hands, located on Industrial Way in South Gardnerville, also had to take banners off a truck they parked on Highway 395, since the sign ordinance says vehicle signs must be permanent.
“Our business had dropped 50 percent because people do not know where we are,” said store director Carrole Jardine. “Our revenue goes to the Food Closet, the battered women’s shelter and Social Services. We’re not able to help our community and taxes will have to come in to help those organizations. There’s got to be a way for nonprofits to off-site advertise our businesses.”
The county stepped up its sign ordinance enforcement in January when it sent out notices to violators, with a Feb. 1 deadline for removing the signs.
“We put up banners around town advertising the (Business Showcase) event,” said Guy Botelho of Carsonvalley.com. “In the past we’ve had no problem. Now we have code enforcement coming down on us.”
Moss said there is an exception for civic events, but if the banner is up for a long period of time it may cause problems.
“It is an issue that has been raised before,” said Moss. “It’s up to the discretion of the code enforcement officer.”
Proposals for amendments to the sign ordinance regarding A-frame signs, off-site signage, vehicle signs and regulations concerning banners and valance signs will be drafted and presented at a second sign ordinance workshop at the end of May at the Chamber of Commerce.
An idea for cluster or group signs to list events at the north end of Minden and south end of Gardnerville will also be considered.
“Our staff will look at proposing draft changes to the code,” said Moss.
Following the second workshop, Moss said she will have to get feedback from the towns of Minden and Gardnerville and hold two public hearings to get a zoning text amendment before the item can go before the planning commission, then the board of commissioners.
“This is serious,” said Stangle. “Some of the businesses are not going to be here in the fall if this doesn’t change quickly.”
— Jo Rafferty can be reached at email@example.com or 782-5121, ext. 213.