by Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- Signs — where they can be put, how many, how big — have all been an issue in Walsenburg this past year. Now the Walsenburg Planning Commission is discussing possible changes to the current ordinance which has been in effect since the mid-1970’s.
Recently, the new First Choice Market in Walsenburg ran into problems on what signage they can have, how big it can be and where it can be located. Hugh Brown, the owner of First Choice Market, had originally planned to have a large, impressive looking sign on store property, but when he presented the design to the city, he was told it exceeded the size limitation of 50 square feet. So now a much smaller sign is being designed.
That’s only the first snag that Brown has encountered recently. He planned to put up an off-premise sign on the wall of a vacant building next door to the Cigarette Store. While Brown checked with the state to meet their criteria, he failed to check with the city of Walsenburg. He found that he has to meet the codes of both the city and the state. After sandblasting the wall to rid it of dirt and the remnant of the past advertising, Brown found he has to start the process all over again in seeking city permission for a sign.
The city codes forbid off-premise signage in certain areas although you can find off-premise business signs on other buildings in Walsenburg. It irritates citizens and businesses alike when codes are suddenly enforced although they were often overlooked in the past. Inconsistent enforcement has occurred with building permits, weed enforcement, junk cars and other issues from time to time.
Brown told this reporter that his business will be significantly affected if he can’t get signage along the W. 7th Street area because tourists coming from the south or west won’t necessarily know of his location. Following this past Memorial Day weekend, Brown was even more concerned as tourist traffic was minimal. Brown said, “I have a 4 million dollar investment in this community and I need help from the city on this issue.”
The building in question is actually in a C-2 designated area which prohibits off-premise signs although others can be found in other commercially zoned areas in Walsenburg. If property is designated as A-O for agriculture, L-I for light industrial or H-1 for heavy industrial, then the rules are different.
Brown isn’t the only business owner concerned about the sign ordinance in Walsenburg. Decades ago, large stores like J.C. Penney owned their own buildings downtown. The ordinance allowed each building to have two signs. But now those same buildings have been divided into more than one business with owners of each store often wanting to have two signs or more.
Also, some stores want to have bigger signs than the current ordinance allows. The new Dollar General store sought and received a variance to put up a sign that exceeded size limitations. James Blackshear had to change his sign downtown when it exceeded the size limits. Shell Oil wants to put a 100 foot sign up at Acorn Truck Stop but it currently doesn’t meet with code although signs that size are found in many interstate exits elsewhere.
Even though the planning commission is looking into possible changes in the sign code ordinance, it has received very little input from local businesses. John Carlson, chairman of the planning commission, says input is needed now on what people want; otherwise, they may not be happy with what they get.
The planning commission meets the second Wednesday of each month. Input from businesses or from the general public is encouraged now to establish what is wanted or needed. Should the codes regulating the number of signs, the size of signs or the location of signs be changed? The pros and cons of such issues are up for discussion now. If you care about the issue, plan to attend the next planning commission meeting on Wednesday, June 8 at 6 pm at City Hall.
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward