PLANNING COMMISSION WORK SESSION
TUESDAY, MARCH 13, 2012
COUNCIL CHAMBERS, CITY HALL
CITY HALL; 333 W. ELLSWORTH STREET;
Present: Heying, McLaughlin, Pnacek, Senesac, Stewart, Tanzini and Young
Absent: Hanna and Mead
Staff: Brad Kaye, Director of Planning and Community Development, Cheri King, Community Development Specialist and no others.
1. Welcome and Introduction of the topics
Mr. Kaye introduced the subject of signs. Signs really are a part of economic development. There is a lot of language in the ordinance that is difficult to apply to site plans. He is hoping the discussion tonight will lead us to that point.
The community character is of concern. What are the concerns with signage currently? How do we want signage to be integrated with the built landscape? What aspects of the community do we hope to protect or enhance with regulation?
Mr. Senesac stated that we are a long way from where we should be on signs, according to the training session several Commissioners attended. One of his hot buttons is that the animated signs that have come out in the past few years. They have some great things that go with them. However, he feels they are being misused today and there is a safety risk associated with them. He drives down Eastman Avenue and he saw one at Premiere Tile. It is almost a streaming message. If you are driving there, that sign is a serious safety risk. He does not think the business owner is aware of this at all. The sign is designed to grab your attention and hold it. The six-second rule is not being enforced – that the signage cannot change more often than every six seconds.
Mr. Stewart stated that, at night, they can be extremely bright. Mr. McLaughlin stated that the sign workshop recommended only allowing externally illuminated signs. That cuts down on the brightness. The sign on West Wackerly, for the plastic surgeons, is a prime example of a non-conforming sign.
Mr. Kaye stated that enforcement is always a problem. The City of Midland’s enforcement is the Building Official. Currently, it is a civil infraction. If there is a long-standing period where the nonconforming sign has not been identified, it takes longer to bring them into conformance, although that is not totally out of the question.
Mr. Heying asked about on US-10. Where does MDOT’s authority end and the city’s authority begin? The Midas Muffler shop, is that an MDOT approved sign or a city controlled sign? Mr. Kaye stated that businesses have to go to MDOT to get a sign permit to have a sign in the right-of-way owned by the State of Michigan.
You can regulate the time, place and the manner of the sign. You cannot regulate the content. Mr. Young stated there are a lot of channel lit signs that have low lighting. There is a big difference in signs that are internally lit but have a low impact. Then there is the Garber Chevrolet sign at the corner of Eastman and Saginaw Road. That sign is not meeting the six second rule.
One of the questions Mr. Kaye has with the current ordinance is that there is a maximum amount of signage allowed now, but they can get additional signage with a ground mounted sign. The ground signs do not clearly distinguish between a pole sign and a monument sign. If you are on a corner lot, you are permitted additional signage.
What are the most important aspects of signage to regulate that will enhance the community character? How can we regulate while maintaining the needs of business owners?
Mr. McLaughlin stated the directional signs are very helpful in directing traffic and they are practical, they are effective and they are unobtrusive. Initially, there was opposition to these types of signs. They sure look good now and they serve a purpose.
Some of the interpretations will have to be re-written and tightened up. Is a sign a public sign or a quasi-public sign? Mr. McLaughlin asked if we should throw out the entire existing ordinance and start over again, or do we try to modify portions of the ordinance to arrive at what we want? Mr. Kaye responded that this had not yet been determined.
Mr. Senesac stated that we have a lot of work to do to get to where Mark Wyckoff says we should be. From a process point of view, it may be easier to start from scratch rather than to modify what we have, due to all the changes that needed to be made. Mr. Stewart stated they recommend a sign audit be done and a list be developed of all the different signs in the city.
Mr. Pnacek asked if we need to look at how signs are measured? It has to be easily interpreted by the applicant and it has to be enforceable. Do we want to keep the sign ordinance as a part of the Zoning Ordinance or add it to the Code of Ordinances?
Mr. Kaye asked about wall signs. How do they feel about those? Mr. Pnacek stated he just has a problem with how the area is measured. The LED lit signs are a problem as wall signs, also.
Mr. Senesac stated that staff has done a very good job in bringing updates to the ordinance to the Planning Commission every year so the Zoning Ordinance is a living document and it changes on a fairly regular basis, as needed in the community.
Mr. Kaye asked about development signs located on a landscaped island at a shared access drive. How would we like to see signage in these areas? The Planning Commission is in favor of the access controls that have been discussed and if we can control some of this by signage, this would be good.
Ray Senesac asked about access controls. This subject has just not progressed as there have not been funds to bring in consultants to work with it. This subject needs to be addressed – especially to the north of the mall. As this area develops, it is going to be imperative that we have some form of shared access.
Mr. Kaye asked about signs on awnings. Should they be considered part of the signage or not? Mr. Pnacek stated he sees that pretty much like a wall sign. He is thinking about the Habitat sign and the Disability Network sign. That is non-obtrusive. They would also be used in the downtown area. The Commission did not seem to have any issues with these types of signs.
Typically, there has to be some commercial purpose to inflatable signs. They tend to be seasonal displays. You can regulate seasonal displays of lights and displays.
Mobile billboards, being LED signs on a truck that have changing copy as they drive down the road, are a newly emerging type of sign. At the present time, we do not regulate mobile signs.
Mr. Senesac listed 3 items under “What aspects of the community do we hope to protect or enhance with regulations? Safety, appearance, and a businesses’ ability to communicate their message. These are all important aspects of signage.
Mr. McLaughlin stated it is about the design and what the community wants to see from its signage. We are not Frankenmuth. He likes the directional signs in town with the red posts and the blue tops. What do we want to see as far as the community character of signs? The downtown could use some additional design standards. Midland does not have a historic downtown. It doesn’t really stick out. It is kind of off to the edge. There are no tall buildings to specify you are in the downtown. What is the character we want to portray? Then you have areas like the ball diamond and the new proposed development across the street. There is an opportunity to have an impact up front. He would also like to take a look at political signs. These seem to be a problem in many communities. The whole subject revolves around design standards. There are pockets that will develop north of the mall that can really use some good design standards.
How will we get the business community involved? When do we get them involved? Mr. Senesac suggested we start with the Chamber of Commerce. Also Midland Tomorrow could be contacted for input. Meetings in a box were a very effective way to get public input. We could also contact Township Planning Commissions to see how they handle various issues. We would incorporate some goals and objectives toward the sign ordinance along with the Master Plan update. Hopefully we could tie public input together for the two subjects. Mr. Kaye will begin to engage the business community and see where we go from here.
Mr. Kaye mentioned the next meeting two weeks out. Staff would have a minimum amount of time to prepare for that meeting. There is a lot of background work staff is doing for the Master Plan update. It was felt that the next meeting will be more meaningful if we present the information in four weeks instead of two. There are no applications for the Planning Commission for two weeks from tonight. Commissioners agreed to cancel the meeting two weeks from tonight.
Adjournment at 8:40 p.m. was unanimously approved.
C. Bradley, Kaye, AICP
Director of Planning & Community Development
MINUTES ARE NOT FINAL UNTIL APPROVED BY THE PLANNING COMMISSION