Is it a sign from above?
It was a bit of a shock Monday night when Marion Mayor David Mayfield, who has spent much of the past two months trying to oust council member Ruth Herbel, nominated her to become vice mayor.
It was no less of a shock to hear the rest of the council spend much of the public portion of its meeting discussing proposed changes to regulations governing downtown signs.
The push to change the rules came about because one business owner put up a sign that hung over the sidewalk instead of remaining flush against the building, as required by a decades-old ordinance.
That ordinance had been crafted after outside experts were enlisted to help the city develop rules that would emphasize downtown’s historic appearance. It also sought to avoid the danger of overhanging signs falling during inclement weather.
Hours of meetings produced a preliminary draft ordinance as complicated as codification of the Napoleonic code but without any enforcement mechanism. And the main reason was so the business owner didn’t become discouraged by having to remove her sign.
Mother Nature stepped in where city officials feared to tread and removed the sign during high winds last week. The owner thinks a vandal may have been involved, but any of several people who saw the sign twisting violently in the wind suspect otherwise.
Rather than rush into approving something — anything — that would have made the business owner’s sign legal, the city and its planning and zoning commission need to take a step back and consider the broader issue and the fact that aesthetic standards are very difficult to codify.
That’s why Lindsborg, for example, which has the type of downtown Marion wants, has a much simpler sign ordinance. Plans and designs must be submitted before any sign is ordered to a group looking at both engineering and aesthetics. This encourages a consistent look and feel — and safety — while allowing for creativity, when warranted, in serving businesses’ customers.
The recent rush of wind storms has taken a heavy toll on firefighters and, in one case, an attractive but technically illegal sign. Perhaps it also provided a breath of fresh air to rethink proposed rules that would, for example, give Brookens Law Office, with one of the largest street frontages downtown, one of the largest signs.
We can’t envision lawyer Bob rebranding himself as a bull attorney with a gigantic billboard proclaiming such in front of his office, but the hastily drawn proposal would allow just that.
— ERIC MEYER