By Sally Gillie, special to the Monitor
The Monroe Planning Commission held another workshop this week on the city’s new sign code proposal, focusing on how to regulate those newer changeable message and digital display signs that are already being requested by local businesses.
Technology is quickly advancing these signs, and the city’s new code will add sections to define messaging signs, video display and digital signs and also regulate their size and where they can be located. There will also be an annual review requirement for businesses using these signs as a way for the city to monitor their use.
As in other places, the city of Monroe expects to see increasing demand for digital and video signs among businesses. Jeff Sax, Monroe Economic Development Manager, told the commission that three businesses in the Fryelands industrial park have made inquiries.
“Digital display signs used to be expensive, but they have really come down in price in the last year,” said Tom Beckwith, an urban planner and designer who has been hired by the city to develop its new sign code. The result is that the digital display signs are expected to become increasingly popular, making it prudent for local jurisdictions to update local ordinances.
Changeable copy signs use electronics or video to display messages or graphics for several seconds and then move to the next message.
Digital signage includes message centers and displays or videos that can show television programming, menus, advertising or other messages, and can use technologies such as LCD or LED lighting or plasma displays.
Commissioners and city staff agreed there were some parts of Monroe where video display signage should be excluded, such as in historic downtown. It was the consensus of the planning commission that the sign guidelines in the downtown master plan should remain in place and included as a supplement in the new sign code.
“We will continue to leave the current sign guidelines in place according to the downtown area master plan,” said Paul Popelka, Monroe Planning and Permitting Manager. “We have a pretty strong code already for this area that we can apply.”
Commissioner Dave Demarest pointed out that, with the exception of historic downtown, those new digital signs with video display could be allowed elsewhere in the city under its current ordinance, including those residential and mixed-use neighborhoods close to downtown. “We have to ask ourselves if this is what we really want to see here,” he asked.
Planning commissioners favored opening the door for these signs in Monroe’s general commercial zone along U.S. 2 that stretches from the Hwy. 522 interchange to Woods Creek Road and includes the North Kelsey shopping district. They also agreed that digital signage would be appropriate for those businesses in the industrial park located just west of U.S. 2.
The Fryelands industrial area, which is zoned light commercial, was considered as another possibility for allowing the signage. Commissioner Bridget Tuttle said she saw no problems with these signs in the industrial park, an area that she said can be hard to find one’s way around in.
But the general consensus among the planning commission was to exclude these newer types of electronic signs from Fryelands Boulevard, except at the east and west ends that are zoned service commercial; namely the Chevy dealership to the west, and the old brick plant to the east. Commissioners felt the rest of Fryelands Boulevard, which fronts on Lake Tye Park and the elementary school, may not be suitable for electronic signage.
That intersection where the new section of Hwy. 522 crosses Main Street is also a location where the new sign code would raise the sign height limits to 45 feet so that signage will be visible to drivers. Commissioners decided they would recommend a 140 square foot maximum for signs at this location.
The proposed new code also requires that changeable copy and video displays anywhere in town must be located at least 35 feet in any direction from another electronic display sign and must be perpendicular to the flow of traffic. The new code also has language stating that digital signs must have automatic dimming capability that adjusts to the ambient light at all times of the day and night.
The commission also agreed on a new definition for historical signs, which will continue to be exempt under the new code. These signs are defined as being “on a wall or projecting, where the sign is proposed to be restored or authentically recreated as evidenced by historic photographs.” They can be allowed under the proposed new code even if they are considered non-conforming.
The new sign code will propose a 10-year time period for businesses with permanent signs that may not conform to the new code to come into compliance; and a period of six months for limited duration and temporary signs such as sandwich board or A-frame signs.
A public hearing on the new sign code will be held at the next meeting of the planning commission, Feb. 25, 7 p.m., at the city council chambers. After the public has weighed in, city staff will take those comments and recommendations from the planning commission and draft a final sign code proposal to submit to the city council, likely in March.