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Published July 29, 2010, 12:00 AM

Commission gets revised sign code

Owners of portable-sign firms unhappy with latest version
There is still opposition in the sign industry to the latest version of a revised sign code presented to the Fargo Planning Commission at a lunch meeting Wednesday.

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

There is still opposition in the sign industry to the latest version of a revised sign code presented to the Fargo Planning Commission at a lunch meeting Wednesday.

While some in the sign industry say they can live with compromises hammered out during a year of debate over the city’s sign regulations, portable-sign firm owners say their livelihoods are at stake.

“They didn’t do anything for us,” said Jim Patterson, owner of Sign Shop in Fargo.

No compromises were offered on how long portable signs could be up, or where they could be placed, he said.

Portable signs can now be up 120 days in a year, but would be restricted to 56 under the new sign code to match the Moorhead and West Fargo limits.

The old code also allowed portable signs to be placed anywhere. The new code bans them from all residential zones, including those for apartments. Those zones also include some churches. Portable signs are often used to rent apartments or advertise church events.

“They said, ‘Forget it,’ ” Patterson said of city officials. “It hurts Fargo. Fargo is really getting stung.”

The new code gets a public hearing before the Planning Commission at 4 p.m. Tuesday. After that, it could be sent to the City Commission for final approval.

The new code aims to balance advertising needs against reducing visual pollution.

It features tighter rules on sign placement, size and proximity to other signs for everything from billboards to home-for-sale signs.

It also includes rules for electronic messaging signs to reduce light pollution, limit distractions for drivers and protect residential areas.

Kari Newman Ness, the CEO of Newman Signs, said her firm’s slice of the industry won some and lost some in the debate.

“We will live with whatever the new ordinance is,” she said, adding that she hopes some tweaking to the code is still possible.

City Commissioner Brad Wimmer said the updated code will clean up the city.

“I think Fargo, in certain areas, looks atrocious,” he said.

“We haven’t gone to the extremes” in crafting the code, Wimmer said. “I think we’ve found the middle ground.”

Steven Stremick, whose effort to put up an electronic messaging center on his land in the Hawthorne neighborhood sparked the debate that led to the decision to revamp the code, disagrees.

“There was limited input by the industry,” he said of the code. “It’s more planner-friendly … than business-friendly.”

John Q. Paulsen, chairman of the Planning Commission and head of the Sign Code Committee, said the new code is not perfect, but it’s good, and should stand the test of time.

“Our obligation was to be as fair as we could be,” Paulsen said. “I feel good about the mindset of the committee.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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