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Walsenburg merchants want sign changes

by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- Approximately ten Walsenburg businesses want change to the ordinance on signs that has been in effect since 1975. They met with the Walsenburg Planning and Zoning Committee last week.
Hugh Brown of First Choice Market called the current ordinance archaic. Brown wants to put an off-premise sign on a building wall on W. 7th, but the code doesn’t allow it although previous planning commissions have ignored such signs in the past. Brown told the planning commission that “as a community, Walsenburg is trying to survive and many businesses need help.” Brown says he is missing out on additional business because of the current sign code.
Tony Raciborski of Acorn Truck Stop at the I-25 exit said he would like to see a different sign code for the Northlands area because they need huge signs to attract cars off the interstate. He said businesses need 150-foot-high signs to attract drivers. But planning commission member Mike Lave, a downtown business owner, disagreed saying the small signs along the I-25 corridor telling people about hotels, gas and restaurants are best. Raciborski replied that the small signs aren’t easy to see, especially at night, and are not lighted.
He said businesses like I-HOP and McDonald’s have expressed interest in Walsenburg but won’t consider coming in without a sewer line and the right kind of signage, neither of which Walsenburg has at the moment. He said Acorn’s business is down and feels inadequate signage is most of the problem. Lave said there is no guarantee that bigger signs will help, but Brown and Raciborski disagreed.
Bill Downey of Main Street Office and Jim Correnti who owns the old Shell station at 7th and Main both told the planning commission to let Brown have his sign. But according to chairman John Carlson, the city attorney says the ordinance doesn’t allow for off-premise signs.
Mike Lave told people that a board is now enforcing the codes and will not allow off-premise signs. Lave said Brown should have looked at the sign ordinance before moving forward. Brown said he followed state guidelines, and since he saw numerous off-premise signs in Walsenburg, assumed there was no problem.
Don Easter, owner of Grandpa and Grandma’s This & That told the planning commission, “The city is always hollering that we have no money. This is 2011 not 1979. We need a change.” Easter said that businesses provide needed sales tax revenue for the city.
The owner of Johnny’s Bakery & Restaurant, Missy Serra, said she needs help with signs too. “I’m dying. I’m down to three days per week and have laid off employees. Once a car passes by, they won’t turn around.”
Huerfano County Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Lave said decisions made now will last a long time and need to benefit everyone in business.
Brown asked the planning commission to consider a temporary variance to allow him the signage needed to attract customers this summer. “I’m in a bind and I need some help,” Brown said.
Carlson asked Assistant Administrator Beth Neece to check with the city attorney about temporary relief on signage while the planning commission works on making changes. He suggested the International Sign Code may work for Walsenburg just as it is doing for thousands of cities worldwide. It contains charts and graphs that allow alternatives based on the size of a store front, where it is located, etc.
Bill Downey brought some levity to the meeting by wanting to know what the penalty is for ignoring the sign code since the city has not been uniformly enforcing the code. Carlson said an owner could get two citations and then a trip to court. (The real answer is that a fine of $300 per day could be assessed but the city hasn’t done so with other off-premise signs).
The planning commission and the city of Walsenburg, along with the Chamber of Commerce, will mail out a questionnaire to all Walsenburg businesses to get their input while they wait for the city attorney’s ruling on interim relief for businesses needing adjustments to the 1975 ordinance.
Brown of First Choice Market urged the planning commission to do something sooner rather than later because he, the truck stop and other businesses are suffering because of the current sign ordinance.
George Birrer of Dakota Campgrounds and a Planning Commission member agreed that Brown had made a big investment of four million dollars in the community and needs some consideration. Mike Lave disagreed saying that just because the grocery store is a big entity doesn’t mean we change for them. “There are smaller businesses that have kept things going in Walsenburg,” Lave said.
Most people on both sides agreed some changes are needed. How fast they happen is still anyone’s guess.