JASPER — Potential changes to Jasper’s unified development ordinance could affect the way city business owners call attention to their establishments on signs throughout town.
Whether on a screen or a vehicle, discussed revisions to the ordinance could restrict the usage of both electronic variable message signs — like the ones that stand outside Holiday Liquors and Audio World Television & Appliances on Sixth Street — as well as the parking of vehicles that are used as signs near roadways.
Lengthy conversations on the current and future usage of those two types of signs took place during Jasper Plan Commission meetings in December and early January, and now, the commission is reaching out to business representatives for input on the possible changes.
Nothing has been finalized, and investigations into the exact language that would be implemented are ongoing.
“We are a business-friendly community,” said Darla Blazey, the city’s director of community development and planning. “We want to encourage new business growth and expanded growth for our current businesses. So, we don’t want to be prohibitive. But at the same time, we have to be fair. So, we have to make sure that what we’re putting in place is fair rules for all.”
Blazey said the board of zoning appeals recently approved a number of variance requests for the electronic signs. And at the plan commission’s December meeting, City Attorney Renee Kabrick told commission members that many signage-related complaints were received in 2018 — particularly in regards to the usage of what she and commission members called “mobile billboards,” or vehicles that are used primarily as signs.
Electronic variable message signs
Electronic displays are currently allowed on pole signs as an accessory to a business’ main signage, but a number of non-conforming electronic signs have been approved through variances. Public health safety concerns were often expressed by zoning board members when discussing them.
“They do have the capabilities of almost being a large TV screen while you’re driving down the road,” Blazey said of the signs. “So their (the board’s) concern is really a public safety concern.”
The electronic fixtures often rotate messages like a slideshow, and the commission has discussed placing a restriction on how quickly the signs can cycle through their slides, as well as what transitions, like flashes and twirls, and other animations can be utilized on their screens.
Local business representatives said they get value in the electronic signs that static signs don’t provide.
Glen Hopf, co-owner of Holiday Liquors, was bothered when he heard electronic signs like his faced potential restriction, especially because those limitations could make the signs less valuable and less useful.
“We put a fair amount of promotions on there, especially tastings that occur,” Hopf said of his sign. “That helps with drive-bys because Jasper is an artery community. There’s one, maybe two big roads going through town ... and the signage along that road is very important. We get a lot of people that turn around and come back to shop because they see a sign, see the store or see something. A lot of businesses rely on that.”
He uses slow-moving and muted animations on his sign, saying they help get the attention of drivers.
“People notice things that change,” he said. “They don’t notice things that don’t change. That’s the whole point of having these animations. It might get someone to glance over there for that split second that they otherwise would not have glanced over there.”
Vehicles used as signs
Kabrick explained that vehicles and trailers parked on public or private property primarily for the purpose of displaying a sign are currently prohibited in Jasper, but said that the ordinance’s current wording is somewhat subjective.
A draft of potential changes presented at the commission’s January meeting also included a section that prohibits the parking of a vehicle “in such a way to function as a sign, defined to include the parking of any vehicle, trailer or similar movable structure containing or supporting any signage between the right-of-way line and any public street; and the front line of a building and the front lot line of the lot, whichever area is greater.”
Exceptions would apply, however. In the draft, exceptions include vehicles actively involved in the construction on or serving of the site; vehicles delivering products to the site and parked temporarily in designated loading; vehicles parked in designated truck parking areas of a site or development that has been screened from or are not generally visible from the public right of way; vehicles parked on sites where parking is not available 150 feet or more from the public right-of-way (in such cases, vehicles supporting signage shall be located as far as possible from the public right of way); as well as passenger cars, trucks and passenger vans of a size that can fully fit within a standard parking space, containing signs painted on or permanently affixed on the doors or integral body panels.
The potential changes to the ordinance will be further discussed at the next plan commission meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, at City Hall, 610 Main St. Business owners are encouraged to reach out to Blazey at City Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org and to share their thoughts at next month’s meeting.