Central Indiana city looks to relax business sign rules

Greenfield officials are proposing new measures to relax the city's strict sign standards.

At the request of Mayor Dick Pasco, a committee of city officials and private business owners in the Hancock County city just east of Indianapolis picked over the sign ordinance to look at changes that could make it more "business friendly."

Relaxing the ordinance, which was overhauled just two years ago, was one of Pasco's first initiatives after taking office in January.

"I wanted to be a little more friendly to local businesses," Pasco told the Daily Reporter. "When you have a sluggish economy, it becomes a little more clear how important signage can be."

The committee has proposed a number of changes that will give business owners and residents more options.

Joanie Fitzwater, city planning director, said the revisions also help clarify language and definitions that made the previous ordinance hard to navigate.

The biggest proposed changes will be to electronic signs and temporary signs.

Previously, electronic signs were required to hold a message static for five minutes. The committee is proposing to reduce that time limit to one minute, which will match county sign ordinance provisions.

Pasco said the five-minute restriction essentially rendered electronic signs pointless.

"It defeats the purpose of investing in those type signs," he said. "This is a little more reasonable for businesses."

If the new sign ordinance is approved, there will be a rule change to allow free-standing temporary signs. The current ordinance only allows for temporary signs, like banners, to be attached to a structure.

"This is where we're really trying to help business," Fitzwater said.

Jeff Inskeep, owner of Inskeep Ford, said his business will take advantage of the changes, should they be approved. Free-standing temporary signs could help drive traffic to the dealership during special sales and promotions, he said.

"The more signage, the more attention it attracts," Inskeep said. "It'll give a little bit of added exposure for promotions we don't have time to make up an ad for; tire sales, brake sales, something like that."

Fitzwater said the challenge in amending the new sign ordinance was to make sure changes intended to help businesses did not inadvertently endanger drivers or impede upon city aesthetic. The changes, she said, are a good balance of both.

"We want to balance the needs of the community, with our need to have signs that are safe, with needs of businesses," Fitzwater said.

Other changes include slight increases on sizes for certain types of signage, added standards for garage sales signs, removal of permit requirements for non-commercial opinion signs over nine square feet (like political signs) and removal of a standard restricting the number of wall signs allowed.

Mike Rees, principal at SR 9 Development LP, owner of Brandywine Plaza and Brandywine Crossing, said his tenant, Kroger, has never been happy with the height of the sign for its gas station, which sits lower due to the current ordinance's measuring standards. The change would so it is be more visible to motorists on Indiana 9.

"Visibility is absolutely critical," Rees said.

The majority of the changes affect properties in business and industrial zones, though some changes were made to sign standards in the historic district, including more lenient requirements for sign materials.

The proposed changes will be taken up by the Plan Commission next week. If approved there, they will move on to the city council. To be on the books for 2013, the changes have to receive final approval before the end of the year.

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