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Albany Sign Task Force readies recommendations for Planning Commission

Albany City Commission will ultimately rule on task force recommendations

ALBANY — The city of Albany’s Sign Task Force completed its two-month assignment Thursday afternoon, and planning officials are to have the task force’s recommendations ready for review by the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission by the first of May.

The Sign Task Force discussed in detail the various elements of the city’s sign ordinance, including such controversial issues as “human signs,” the number of digital signs allowed within the city limits and rules governing historic signs. The group offered a concensus recommendation that Planning Director Paul Forgey plans to have ready for the Planning Commission at its next meeting.

“I will email a final copy of the task force’s recommendations to each member and allow them an opportunity to suggest any further changes (to the city’s existing sign ordinance),” Forgey said. “I hope to present it to the Planning Commission at the first of next month, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to take this on now. There could be delays for (city) budget considerations.

“We want to make sure the City Commission (which will determine the fate of the task force recommendations) gives full due (consideration) to both the budget and the sign ordinance. I don’t, however, expect to convene the Sign Task Force for another meeting.”

The task force reached agreements Thursday — often after extended discussion — on 16 separate elements presented by Forgey. Each element was presented with options for the task force to consider, one being to leave that particular issue as it was.

Among the concensus agreements reached by the task force:

— Allow legal non-conforming signs that are properly maintained to be “grandfathered” in until substantial improvement of the business. That decision would eliminate an amortization element of the existing sign ordinance that Forgey said, “is not, as it is written, being enforced”;

— Allow 60 days of advertising for going-out-of-business sales, with an option for an additional 30 days, and 30 days for advertising of grand openings;

— Require rigid frames around all banners and allow businesses to use them for a 21-day period six times a year. The banners must be permitted and no larger than 48 square feet, but the first permit for new businesses would be granted free of charge. Violation of this element could lead to a suggested six-month no-banner penalty;

— One custom banner-type flag would be allowed for every 120 feet of business frontage with a maximum of six per business;

— Only one flag pole would be allowed per business;

— Stickers would be placed on permitted signs to show that they have been permitted;

— Multimessage billboards would be allowed on a portion of Old Dawson Road, and other zones may be allowed with special approval;

— The number of multimessage billboards would be capped at eight within the city limits;

— The number of smaller digital signs allowed in the city would be increased from 75 to 100. (There are now 63 in use);

— Timing for billboard changes would be left at 10 seconds, which, Planning Manager Tracy Hester noted, is the time allowed on state roadways;

— Timing changes for smaller multimessage signs would be reduced from a minute to 30 seconds;

— Changes made on multimessage signs would be regulated to occur instantaneously;

— “Human signs” would be permitted, but not on rights-of-way or within 6 feet of a city roadway. “No studies have been done on the dangers of these types of signs, but studies have shown that some signs are distracting to drivers,” Forgey said. “There have also been incidences of deaths reported from these types of advertisements.”

“My concern is not the costumes or the signs themselves, but the safety issue,” Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful Director Judy Bowles said;

— Historic signs — those that are 50 years old or older that look essentially the same as when they were first erected — that originated within the city limits would be allowed with no restrictions. Reconstruction of those signs would be permitted with documentation;

— Planning would ask for an increase in sign fees, which currently max out at $40 per sign. “We’re not in this to make money, but there’s no way $40 will come close to even paying the bill,” Hester said;

— Planning would recommend that banner and flag fees remain at $30;

— Small electric signs would be allowed, but would not allowed to flash;

— Seasonal lights and holiday displays would be exempt from sign ordinance restrictions.