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Commission denies sign ordinance change

There won't be any changes made to West Fargo's current sign ordinance.

Following a public hearing on the matter Monday night, West Fargo City Commissioners voted unanimously to deny a request made by Brett Waldera of Cook Sign Company to amend the sign regulation to allow signs larger than the current maximum of 200 feet and to allow total signage to be calculated using 15 percent of the areas of the building fa?ade.

Cook Sign officials installed a sign without a permit at Trail King Industries new West Fargo production plant at 2130 3rd Ave. N.W. last year. After the sign was installed, a permit request was made. At that time, West Fargo city officials reviewed the signage and found it to be 130 ½ feet larger than the ordinance allows.

Senior Planner Steve Zimmer said that Cook Sign was informed that they had installed a sign that didn't comply with ordinance and they had three options - to remove the sign, apply for a variance, or apply for a zoning ordinance amendment. They opted for the latter.

Zimmer said that the current sign ordinance provides for adequate signage. He said the present ordinance is the result of many hours of work by City staff, sign companies and elected and appointed officials that resulted in the comprehensive sign ordinance being amended and approved in 2003. The staff report stated that sign companies benefited from the changes and were satisfied with the amount of signage, and that overall the City had arrived at an ordinance that addressed business and public concerns, in turn, providing for the greater public good.

City Planning Director Larry Weil said that people wanted change in the ordinance that would improve the look and image of the community. Both he and Zimmer pointed out that the ordinance clearly states that wall signs are intended to be read from the nearest street, noting that large companies along West Fargo's Thirteenth Avenue, like Sunmart, Menards and those in Westgate Commons complied with the specifications without any objections or problems. "The citizens made it loud and clear that they wanted tighter restrictions because the City was an eyesore," Weil said referencing the changes made in 2003. "We also heard loud and clear from developers that they wouldn't come here unless we had tighter restrictions."

Zimmer said a hearing on a zoning ordinance amendment was held by the West Fargo Planning and Zoning Commission in December, which they denied, and a ruling on a variance request is pending.

Waldera, director of sales for Cook Sign Company, told Commissioners that he felt the existing sign ordinance is not adequate and had not been challenged to this point. He said the signage at Trail King was designed with four foot letters for readability from Main Avenue, so incoming freight would be able to see the building. He admitted that it was a mistake in not securing the building permit before the sign was installed, one he attributed to a 'missing page' regarding City sign codes. He said his goal with the request was to come up with a solution that didn't involve scrapping the sign. "I'm looking for a solution, obviously, that works for everyone. I know an error was made and I assure you I don't want it to happen again."

He noted other companies in Fargo had wall signs larger than 200 feet, adding he felt West Fargo's cap on the 200 feet could be detrimental. "It's restrictive to buildings with large facades. I don't think this negatively impacts anyone else."

Commissioner Lou Bennett asked Waldera how many signs are sold a year and how many permits had been forgotten. His response was "a thousand" and "maybe two."

"If you had applied, it would have saved a lot of problems," Bennett responded. Proper procedure is to get details first. You don't do it first and then ask for forgiveness."

Mayor Rich Mattern said he thought it was a great sign and that Cook Sign should be asking for a variance instead of an ordinance change. "We can take each case individually, but I don't think we should be changing the whole ordinance because of that one building."

Frank Lenzmeier, who serves as chairman of the West Fargo Planning and Zoning Commission and was in attendance to represent the P and Z board, said that according to his numbers, Cook Sign had applied for 36 sign permits since 2002, noting if they were missing information all they had to do was pick up the phone and call staff and ask. "They are somewhat familiar with the procedure of applying for permits. We as a P and Z board have spent a lot of time giving and reviewing recommendations and hundreds of hours and dollars preparing the sign ordinance. An item like this reflects greatly on our credibility as a City. If it is changed, we will have ramifications down the road. This accident does not justify a change in the ordinance or a variance."

He pointed out the strictness of Grand Forks' ordinance, where if a sign is not in compliance it must come down. "If a variance is considered, we would have people coming in a revolving door. I think we'd be opening a can of worms, we'd be dealing with for a long time."

Commissioner Brenda Warren agreed with Lenzmeier. Addressing Waldera she said. "I think for you to come before us asking for an amendment would set a precedent and result in serious ramifications."

The Board voted 5-0 to deny the request. The Planning and Zoning Board is expected to act on the variance request at their next meeting. After that time, the variance request will come back to the Commission, which they will act upon as the Board of Adjustments.

In other action, the Commission:

-approved two resolutions for refunding improvement bonds of 2008, Series A and sidewalk warrants;

-approved first reading of the adoption of International I-codes, which are updated in three year cycles;

-okayed a retail-liquor and beer license request from Ronald Iverson Jr. for Three Lyons Public House at 745 13th Ave. E.;

-appointed City employee Chris Brungardt to serve on the Western Area City County Cooperative Board, the entity from which the City purchases sand and other materials;

-heard a report from Commissioner Bennett on a new recycling program that is being developed by a marketing class at Minnesota State University Moorhead with the plans and promotion to be revealed in advance of Clean-Up Week in May.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 4, in the Commission Chamber at West Fargo City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.