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Task force convenes to discuss Albany sign ordinance

Citizens group to work with city officials on issues with existing sign ordinance

Albany-Dougherty Planning Director Paul Forgey discusses the city of Albany’s sign ordinance during a Sign Task Force meeting Thursday. Seated to Forgey’s right is Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Albany-Dougherty Planning Director Paul Forgey discusses the city of Albany’s sign ordinance during a Sign Task Force meeting Thursday. Seated to Forgey’s right is Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — A dozen members of a citizens Sign Task Force met with city officials Thursday to begin discussions of a “new and improved” citywide sign ordinance that would replace the existing ordinance.

Albany-Dougherty Planning and Development Services Director Paul Forgey led the discussion by giving an overview of the existing city sign ordinance and issues that have sprung up surrounding the ordinance.

“Unfortunately, the sign ordinance we have in place now has had a very short shelf life,” Forgey said. “Typically, an ordinance is in place for around 15 years before it needs tweaking. This ordinance has been in place for five or six years, and while I still believe it’s a good ordiannce, there are issues that need addressing.”

Some of the specific issues Forgey discussed with the task force are amortization of non-conforming signs, historic signs, flags, banners and the number of signs allowed on residential and retail property.

“Staff has been reviewing our existing sign ordinance for the last couple of years, and they’ve come up with some ideas for draft changes,” Forgey said. “We’re still trying, though, to get a feel for where the issues are in the community. We’re dealing with public health, safety and welfare issues, with aesthetics and, from an economic development standpoint, a level playing field for all businesses.

“Of course, legally, we have to be careful and respect First Amendment rights. Any sign ordinance we put in place has to be content-neutral. We have to stick with regulating how big … the when, the where and illumination of signs.”

City/county Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson, noting that Thursday’s gathering was the third task force convened to discuss the sign ordinance since it was passed by the Albany City Commission, said the public misunderstands his office’s enforcement of the ordinance.

“We’ll hear people saying ‘Code Enforcement is hurting small business’ (with sign ordinance enforcement), but it’s not our opinion that matters,” Tilson said. “We are here to support you as you go through this process, but you should know that what you give us is what we’ll enforce.

“We take our job serious, and we’re going to enforce the ordinance that’s passed by the commission.”

Forgey said Thursday’s meeting is the first of an expected four to six meetings of the task force.

“Between now and March, I hope we can meet four to six times,” he said. “Around March-April, I’d like to take our recommendation to the Planning Commission. I hope the city is able to make a decision on the ordinance by June, but it could get hung up at planning or with the city.”