Ordinance sign of contention

ALAMOSA — Dividing an already diminished council Wednesday night, a 3-1 vote approved a code amendment expanding sign placement, primarily to accommodate campaign signs during election season.

Alamosa Mayor Pro Tem Liz Hensley, who conducted the July 18th meeting in the absence of Mayor Ty Coleman, voted against the motion, which altered the way the code amendment ordinance was first proposed. Voting to amend the code to allow unlimited temporary freestanding signs on vacant lots from May 15 to November 15 every year were Councilors David Broyles, Jan Vigil and Charles Griego.

Mayor Coleman and Councilors Kristina Daniel and Michael Carson were absent and excused from the meeting.

The council had earlier approved similar action regarding signs in residential public rights of way during election season. The ordinance approved on Wednesday expands that to vacant lots and increases the size of signs allowed. Previously vacant lots were restricted to one sign of no more than eight square feet. This ordinance permits unlimited signs of up to 32 square feet each on vacant lots during the election period.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks explained that the ordinance would more closely align with what has been common practice in the city during election years. Brooks said while the ordinance might be designed to accommodate election signs, the city cannot regulate content of signs, so the ordinance would accommodate all signs including commercial signs.

As first proposed, the ordinance would have removed the sign limitations every year from May 1 to July 5, to accommodate campaigning before the Primary Election, and September 1 to November 15, to accommodate General Election campaign signs. Hensley favored that schedule.

However, Councilman Griego recommended one continuous time period so candidates would not have to remove and then replace their signs. He initially recommended June 1 to November 15 but Councilman Vigil said the June 1 date might not give enough time for candidates before the Primary Election, and Councilor Broyles agreed, suggesting a May 15-November 15 time frame.

One of the reasons for Hensley’s “no” vote was because passing this code amendment would likely trigger a change in the ordinance regarding how much time signs are permitted in residential rights of way.

Brooks said if the council approved the ordinance Wednesday for a continuous period, it would make sense to go back and change the previous residential rights of way ordinance to that same time period. The council would not have to do that, but the staff would recommend it for consistency, she said.

Hensley said, “I personally do not want to do that … in front of everybody’s house.”

Griego said having been through more than 10 elections himself he knew how difficult it was to put signs in, take them back up and put them back in again. He said he would rather see the time period continuous so candidates would not have to do that.

Hensley said she had no problem with taking signs up between the Primary and General Election and putting them out again. She said she believed that might actually help candidates from a marketing perspective because people tend not to pay attention to signs if they are there all the time. She said she did not think it was that much of a pain for candidates to have to remove and replace signs between elections. Griego said he believed it was.

Councilmen Broyles and Vigil agreed with Griego on the continuous time period, and Hensley voted against the motion.

The council held a public hearing on the ordinance Wednesday, but there was no public comment.

In addition to providing for unlimited numbers of signs in vacant lots during election season, the code amendment ordinance approved Wednesday:

• Increases the size of signs allowed on vacant lots from 8 square feet to 32 square feet.

• Permits unlimited temporary freestanding signs of up to 32 square feet at any time of the year on the city-owned property at the train pavilion, Olympian Park and Sunset Park, which have traditionally been used for banners for special events and nonprofit community messages.

• Aligns the sign size in ag zones with other areas, increasing the size of sign permitted from 16 square feet to 32 square feet.

• Allows anyone wishing to place a sign on a vacant lot up to 14 discretionary days beyond the permitted seasonal period to obtain a permit from the city public works department to place a sign on a vacant lot, with the number limited to three per lot.