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City sign ordinance passed on first reading

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — After many long months of work by the planning and zoning commission, city council members and the local business community, the city now has a new sign ordinance that will fully go into effect later this spring.
The Walsenburg City Council approved the 17-page long ordinance Tuesday night on a five-zero vote, with four members absent.
Council rearranged their meeting agenda moving some of the most important items to the beginning of the meeting as a possibility existed that a quorum may not have been able to be kept throughout the entire session.
Council members James Baca and Rick Jennings were absent and councilmen Nick Vigil and Gary Sporcich left the meeting early to attend the county Democratic caucus. Vigil is a candidate for Huerfano County Commissioner.
That situation left only five council members present and Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar, a deputy sheriff, was on call and if he had to leave the meeting it would have had to be cancelled due to lack of a legal quorum.
The five members did pass the sign ordinance with a change to the section dealing with fees. The section, 1007.5, originally called for an annual $25 fee per sign charge to the business owner. Council members discussed this item in their pre-meeting work session and many indicated this was an unreasonable fee to place on struggling downtown merchants and was just the opposite of economic development. Businesses that are located on corners or those that have multiple signs and owners that have multiple businesses would have been hardest hit by the fee.
The section will be rewritten in regard to the annual fee charge to say, in effect, that a fee may be established by the city council by resolution.
The planning and zoning commission have been working on the sign code, with many portions adopted from the International Zoning Code, for over a year.
Business and economic development leaders have been working with the commission and elected officials to get a sign code in place that addresses a variety of issues, including off-premises signage.
The city council also passed ordinance 1008 on first reading. That item prohibits aggressive panhandling within the city limits.
This became an action item for the city in the wake of complaints mainly from residents of the city housing authority apartments concerning individuals who were knocking on people’s doors asking for spare change. City attorney Dan Hyatt said the ordinance was taken in large part from the one in place in both Denver city and county.
While it remains legal for an individual to sit on a street corner with a sign asking for money, the ordinance outlines 10 prohibitive acts that fall more closely within the definition of aggressive panhandling including, but not limited to,
• no person shall panhandle on private or residential property after having been asked to leave; • no person shall panhandle within 20 feet of an ATM;
• no person shall solicit or panhandle after dark, and no person shall panhandle in any public parking lot or structure or within six feet of an entrance to a building.
City council passed three agreements regarding the Chaé Organics lift station: the maintenance agreement, the agreement to accept the lift station as a city lift station (only after the item is constructed and has been fully operational for 90 days,) and the agreement for the city to accept ownership of the lift station.
The city council also approved a resolution establishing a bulk water sale rate for construction. Resolution 2012 R-8 says the bulk rate will apply to water purchasers who will use the water in a single construction project, and purchase the minimum amount of 250,000 gallons. The cost was set at $5 per 1,000 gallons.
A water right lease to John Davis was approved for up to two-acre feet of fully consumable water from the city’s water right on the Coler Ditch and Reservoir System.  Davis will use the water for livestock and irrigation ponds.
The water lease agreement with Davis is an annual one at this time and will need to be renewed each year unless a different agreement is brought to the table in the future.
City council also recognized eight city employees who worked tirelessly day and night during the recent water line breaks and 10 other city staffers who provided support and customer service efforts above and beyond the call during the crisis.