Planning and zoning commission tackles sign ordinance again

Gray Hughes

The Hill City Planning and Zoning Commission once again discussed the proposed sign ordinance revision at its Dec. 16 meeting.

Further discussion was held after the Hill City Common Council said in its first meeting in November that more discussion is needed on the proposed ordinance revision.

“We’ve held several focus group meetings,” said Dale Householder, a member of the planning and zoning commission.

At the planning and zoning’s Dec. 4 meeting, people in attendance wanted a definition of “grandfathering” added to the proposed ordinance revision.

At the Dec. 16 meeting, Dani Schade, development service coordinator for Hill City, said the code already has wording in the code similar to a definition for grandfathering. So, in its revision, Schade added in parenthesis “also called grandfathering” to section 1004.9, in part reading, “Any sign legally existing at the time of the passage of this ordinance that does not conform in use, location, height size or with the regulations of the zone in which such sign is located, shall be considered a legal non-conforming use or structure and shall be permitted to continue in such status until such time as it is either abandoned or removed by the owner.” The term “grandfathering” was inserted after this section. 

Also at the Dec. 4 meeting, it was brought up how many billboards could be placed from the Hill City Visitor Information Center to where the city limits end at China Gulch Road.

Under the current code, 10 billboards could be placed along that corridor stretching 3,000 feet; however, with the proposed billboard distance regulation decreasing from 500 feet to 300 feet, six billboards could be placed along that corridor.

After this, the commission turned to the public for comment.

One person who spoke during public comment was Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute.

“What kind of bothered me was some obscene signage such as Confederate flags or flags with guns on them at the business across from the institute,” he said. “These were not conducive to welcoming all. They are offensive to me, they are offensive to any black people who many come to Hill City and the Confederate flag is a flag of traitors to our nation. They are obscene to me and a bunch of people.”

Schade said she did hear complaints regarding these flags; however, with what has been decided in federal courts the flags could not be ordered to be taken down.

What is offensive to one person may not be offensive to someone else, she added.

Larson, though, said the flags are offensive to him and he would rather see a naked man or woman depicted than a Confederate flag.

“(The Confederate flag) is not under the official definition of obscene,” Schade countered.

Victor Alexander, who owns the building where the Confederate flag was being flown by one of his tenants, said as soon as the business owner learned the flag was causing offense he took it down.

“Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbor,” Alexander said.

The commission shifted gears to whether or not the board should have input on whether or not a deteriorated sign should be repaired or removed. There was consensus by all commissioners that it should be.

Then the commission focused on whether or not there should be prorated rates for temporary signs.

“The idea here is if a business needs a sign for 15 days for a grand opening (they shouldn’t have to pay the yearly price),” Householder said. “It’s not fair to make them pay for a whole year. …The idea is not to make money off sign permits.”

It was suggested by Householder that the rates could be between $15 and $20 for a 10-30 day sign permit, 31 days to 120 days could be $50 and a sign permit for 121 days or more would be $75.

Keith VanNess, a member of the commission, said he liked the already-proposed fee of $120 for the year.

Ron Walker, another member of the commission, said there is merit to the “cheaper” option for someone to advertise for an event.

“We should be able to give them a short-term permit for a banner,” he said. “We don’t want to discourage banners.”

Overall, the commission should be helping businesses, he added.

Connie Wolters, planning and zoning member, agreed with VanNess that the proposed $120 fee for the year should not be messed with.

Rollie Noem, planning and zoning member, agreed with Walker.

The final issue the commission tackled was the use of “air puppets.”

An air puppet is a type of advertising device that uses air to manipulate a tube that is used to attract people to businesses.

These were already banned in the proposed ordinance, but discussion was had on whether or not they should be allowed outside the Central Business District (the area between Elm and McGregor streets) and the Sign Transition Area (the area consisting of Main Street to Walnut Avenue and Poplar Street, Walnut Avenue, Poplar Street, Oak Street, McGregor Street, Pine Avenue, Elm Street and Deerfield Road from Main Street to Pine Avenue).

Noem said he has no issue with them while Walker and Wolters were adamant about their disdain for them. VanNess said he was undecided at the time.

However, members in the audience, which included several business owners in Hill City, were strong with their disapproval of air puppets.

“I know it’s hard to believe I have distinct opinions on them,” said Lorena Freis, owner of the Farmer’s Daughter, jokingly. “But I hate them. They are ugly and nasty and gross.”

This comment drew applause from members in the audience.

Hill City mayor Kathy Skorzewski, who was acting as liaison to the commission, wondered if there was any legitimate merit to using them.

“If you have a big concrete pad and a used car lot they could be helpful,” said Susan Scheirbeck, owner of insideout. “But we don’t have any used car lots.”

Ultimately, the commission listened to the public dismay and will most likely not allow air puppets.

The commission will once again take up the sign ordinance revision at its Jan. 6 meeting.

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