Sign law sees opposition

WARREN – For some area businesses, new sign and display laws passed earlier this year have contributed to business losses, and they anticipate further business declines.

Tim Dotson, owner of Thrift Town Treasures on Youngstown Road, claims he has lost between 30 percent to 35 percent of his business since the two ordinances passed.

“You can’t fight city hall,” Dotson said. “Right now I have mums on sale outside of my store to get people’s attention. People don’t know what I have in here because they cannot see them.”

Greg Dulin, owner of Auto Trendz, also on Youngstown Road, has signs displaying various products sold by his business neatly placed above each of the bay doors of his business. There also are signs next to the front door and a painted sign with the business name on the side of the building.

“They are telling me that I am going to have to take down all of my product signs and paint over my business name that’s on the side wall of my building,” Dulin said. “The signs are not placed on my building in a haphazard manner, nor are they torn or showing wear and tear.

“Each of these signs cost me money to purchase and put up,” he said.

Dulin is one of nearly two dozen business owners on Youngstown Road S.E. who signed a petition asking city officials to allow banners, flags, streamers and portable signs for businesses in the city.

A sign ordinance passed by council earlier this year limits the ability of businesses to use these kinds of signs to advertise.

Dulin says he opened his place three years ago and spent more than $100,000 to upgrade the building, tear down two abandoned houses, add parking among other fixes to make the property attractive.

“This is taking away my ability to advertise what we do here,” he said. “I’m not taking down my signs.”

To that end, Dulin and five other business owners met with Mayor Doug Franklin in early August to discuss their concerns. They say Franklin told them he would arrange for them to talk to some council members about their concerns and, perhaps, the new law could be modified.

However, Dulin and several other of the business owners received enforcement letters last week from the city’s building department to remove non-compliant signs.

Franklin said any violation notices received by businesses he met with about the law will be stayed at least until they are able to meet with their council representatives, the legislation’s sponsor and members of his administration. He is scheduling a meeting for mid-September.

“All legislation is flexible,” Franklin said. “We want our businesses to be able to market their products so they grow and hire more city residents.”

However, he added, there has to be a balance between advertising and keeping the roadways unobstructed and attractive.

Chris Tanneyhill, an inspector with the city’s building department, said that since July 8, he has delivered corrective action notices to 57 businesses. Of those businesses, 34 have been brought into compliance.

Seven of the original 57 businesses are still in violation, and 16 are due to be inspected again.

“It has taken the city years to get to this stage,” Tanneyhill said. “We have been enforcing the new ordinance for about two months. It will take time to get through the whole city. I hope to do so within a year.”

Tanneyhill emphasized many businesses immediately removed signs on telephone poles and on their lawns, as well as banners and steamers that were not in compliance with the updated law.

“There are some businesses with signs that never received permits,” Tanneyhill said. “They can apply for permits. If the applications are granted, the signs will be in compliance.”

The law is being applied equally from the owners of liquor stores to pastors of area churches, Tanneyhill said.

“Everyone is being treated the same,” he said.

The city on Aug. 20 sent a $50 fine invoice to U.S. Pride Home Specialist for it having to remove a “Slate Roof Repairs” sign that was placed on a pole at Woodland Street N.E. and Chestnut Avenue N.E. Fees collected are placed in the city’s general fund and is expected to be used for the enforcement of the ordinance.

Persons or organizations whose sign remains up 48 hours after notification of the infraction may be fined. A new offense may be cited each week after the first notification.

Greg Mease, owner of Mease’s Custom Cars and Accessories on Youngstown Road, will have to paint over a sign that has been on the side of his business for nearly a decade. He also will have to remove one sign that is mounted on the front the building.

This is not the first time he has been in a confrontation with city leaders.More than a year ago, Mease lost a fight with city officials when he was required to remove the shell of a vehicle with specialty wheels and other design elements from the front of the building.

“They required me to move it, saying that it was inoperable,” he said. “Yes, it was inoperable, but it was not meant to be. It was a symbol of my business. People were able to find my businesses by looking for the yellow car with large spoke wheels.”

Mease believes the sign ordinance is being enforced selectively.

“If the city is going to have something like this, you can’t simply go to one or two businesses and force them to comply and not do others,” he said. “If I have to, I will move to another location where I can put up my signs.”

Duane Yeager, who has been operating Best Muffler on Youngstown Road for 18 years, said he does not dislike the idea of the city having a sign ordinance, but disagrees with some aspects of the new law.

“I think business owners should be able to put up temporary signs advertising what they do or when they are having a big sale,” Yeager said.

Under the new ordinance, businesses can have temporary signs up for sales for no more than 30 days in a year. They must obtain a permit to place the temporary signs.

Yeager sympathizes with those who are fighting against businesses that leave signs up so long that they are weather beaten and torn.

“What is going to be done with the fees that businesses have to pay to put up temporary signs?” he said. “Is this just another way for the city to collect new fees. Once collected, how will this money be used?”

Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th Ward and owner of All American Comics in Warren and Boardman, was the primary sponsor of the sign legislation and said the goal is to clean up the appearance of the city, especially it main avenues.

“Our goal was to pass a uniform ordinance that works for everyone,” Bartholomew said. “How many signs does a business needs to say they are selling cigarettes or energy drinks? No business needs 10 to 15 different signs advertising two to three different products.”