By Rosemary K. Otzman
After another lengthy and spirited discussion on the City of Belleville’s proposed new sign ordinance on Aug. 18, the City Council voted unanimously to postpone action on the ordinance and to put it on the Oct. 6 agenda.
“With all the comments, tonight is probably not the time to vote on this,” said Mayor Kerreen Conley. She said by postponing action they would have time to get information from Jill Bahm, the city’s planner, who was not at that night’s meeting.
“We can try to find alternatives and maybe there are no alternatives,” Mayor Conley said.
She said they wanted to make it easier to put the ordinances into the hands of the business owners and ClearZoning does that by putting it on the internet.
She said there are lots of exceptions wanted and you can go over all the ordinances to handle exceptions here and there.
Mayor Conley said she thinks the new ordinance person, Rick Rutherford, is working in a spirit of cooperation and not just writing a ticket and leaving.
(Rutherford works 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday.)
“I think we’re headed in the right direction and I don’t want to bring it back unless we’re ready to act on it,” Conley said.
Councilwoman Kim Tindall said the planning commission has already approved this document and it is dated November 2013. She said the first available date the chairman of the planning commission, who also was chairman of the sign committee, could meet with the council would be the first meeting in October. (She referred to her significant other: Steve Jones.)
Conley agreed the comments from that evening should be shared with those who put the ordinance together and passed it on to the council for action.
The council held a half-hour public hearing on the sign ordinance Monday, followed by a lengthy discussion when the item came up on the agenda for action.
John Delaney of Van Buren Township introduced himself as having a licensed sign shop for 25 years and reminded them he attended a city council meeting when they were deciding on an LED city sign to fill in the frame of the late Chesley Odom’s announcement sign – about five to seven years ago.
He pointed out items in the ordinance that he thought needed changing. He said the 35% of the store windows allowed to have signs was too liberal and he thought it should be more like 20%. He said it was a public safety situation and police and vigilant citizens should be able to look in the windows.
“There is a current sign ordinance,” Rutherford pointed out. “It’s 25% now. If they’re not complying with that, they won’t with the new 35%.”
The family from Mr. Muffler came to ask if they were going to make them lower their signs and Mayor Conley said they were grandfathered in and wouldn’t have to change them unless they sold the business or the sign was damaged more than 50%.
Michelle Mahaffey of A&W has been wrestling with the city over the sign ordinance for many years, even serving on a sign commission for a year and a half.
She is a franchisee and pays fees out of the business’ income to A&W Corporation for advertising, which they have to buy. She can’t request smaller signs and she has to pay.
The banners are larger than the city ordinance allows. All the signs in her windows are a particular size and she can’t have anything electronic.
She said she has seven windows, which allows for three corporate signs and three blank windows.
Mahaffey said although she served on the committee and has come to many meetings on the sign ordinance, she never saw anything like what is at the end of the ordinance now that says after each day a violation is continued, it would be counted as another offense – every single day.
“I think it’s pretty harsh,” Mahaffey said.
Dr. Brian Loranger, fire chief, said his office has been across from A&W since 1986 and he admired how they keep the signs neat.
He said he talked to Mo at Minimart and he asked the council how it is they can’t advertise what they have?
Mahaffey said she knows Mo at Minimart and he asks her how the city can come in and tell him what to do.
She said Mo says, “Nobody ever helps me and tells me what I can do. They just say what I can’t do. There’s no help.”
Mahaffey said she has gone in to see City Manager Diana Kollmeyer when she is upset over city regulations and Kollmeyer would calm her down.
Mahaffey said Mo won’t come in and sit and talk, but someone should be helping him.
Rutherford said he talked to Mo a week ago and told him how he could come into compliance.
Mahaffey discussed the bakery that put up a sign without a permit or a certificate of occupancy and had to take down the sign.
“I think as small a town as we are and how many businesses are closed, we need to be more helpful,” Mahaffey said.
“Unless people have been contacted in a nice way, they won’t want to cooperate,” Mahaffey said. “If it’s a small business, running it by yourself is hard. I know.
“Does this ordinance work for me? No. Do I have issues with it? Yes,” she said.
She said she doesn’t think it’s fair to be paying $500, $600 or $700 for a variance meeting before people who are volunteering.
Businesses don’t know the rules.
“Not everyone reads that one little paper in town,” Mahaffey said.
Delaney said when you open a business you have to learn things and find out the rules.
Loranger asked the council to see, “What can you do to help your businesses, like the A&W and Mr. Muffler … Help a chain type of business who has to pay for that advertising.”
Delaney said a variance is the answer and the city can work with them and there were other suggestions.
In other business at the Aug. 18 meeting, the council:
• Approved the Belleville Area Council for the Arts’ request to rent out spaces at Victory Park during the citywide yard sales on Sept. 6 and 7. BACA President Doug Dalton said a lot of people in Van Buren Township are in condos or apartments and don’t have space for a sale. BACA plans to charge $10 for space and expect 13 to 15 vendors and, “It is almost like a public service,” Dalton said;
• Approved hiring Keith Tackett as the city’s part-time Director of Public Services. He will work 32 hours a week, four days a week, Monday through Thursday;
• Approved disposing of two vehicles no longer being used by the police department, a 2000 and a 2004 Ford Crown Vic. The department may also sell the 2007 Dodge Charger before the 2006 Charger, yet to be determined;
• Approved closing Fourth Street from Main to the library from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 11 for the annual Belleville Harvest Fest, as requested by the city, one of the sponsors of the event;
• Approved accounts payable and departmental expenditures in excess of $500, with the exception of $14,000 for R&R/Superior/Fox to repair a fire truck, because the charter calls for going out for sealed bids for anything over $5,000, and $1,225 for police membership dues for Macomb County Community College because council members wanted to know what it was for and the interim police chief Hal Berriman was not present to explain;
• Also approved paying $4,900 to Blue Ribon for sewer repair; $604.21 to Martin & Son for police vehicle repairs; not to exceed $5,000 to Osborne Cement for concrete repairs; and $1,200 to WorkNGear for DPS uniform allowances;
• Went into closed-door session to discuss the status and strategy of pending union negotiations.
By Rosemary K. Otzman