Dealerships, city officials discuss sign ordinance

WARREN – Mayor Doug Franklin told nearly a dozen business leaders the city will maintain a moratorium on the sign ordinance passed by City Council earlier this year in order to address concerns that it could negatively affect their businesses.

Representatives from several car dealerships, including Sims Buick, Agree Motors, Klaben Ford and others expressed concern the ordinance does not allow them to place flags and streamers on their properties. The dealerships say that places them at a competitive disadvantage to car dealerships outside of Warren.

Franklin told the business leaders the council went through three readings when the ordinance was discussed earlier this year.

“We hoped that businesses would have come in during those discussions,” Franklin said. “There was more awareness of the ordinance once we began enforcing it.”

Franklin said since the city began enforcing the ordinance, Youngstown Road, which was the first area inspected, is visibly more pleasing.

“We placed a moratorium on enforcement of the sign ordinance to give you (business owners) an opportunity to meet with council,” Franklin said. “However, it will eventually come to an end.”

Franklin hopes the two sides can find elements of the ordinance that they can compromise and come to an agreement on what will allow the city to be cleaned up and the businesses to maximize their opportunities to attract customers.

“My big problem is signs that block the right-of-way,” Franklin said. “That is non-negotiable.”

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at large, said businesses that have one- or two-day sales should be able to place signs outside of their businesses to advertise the event.

“There should be some leeway for special sales,” Rucker said.

City Engineer Paul Makosky said the sign ordinance was written using a combination of the best elements of the international signage code, Warren’s previous sign ordinance and Howland’s sign ordinance.

Councilman Vince Flask, D-5th Ward, emphasized the city and the council rewrote the sign ordinance because they are making a commitment to clean up the main corridors entering the city.

“We are taking down dilapidated buildings and houses and cleaning up the streets,” he said. “In the next several years there will be a large investment on Youngstown road by the local, state and federal governments.”

Stacey Thomas, a vice president of Agree Motors, said the car dealerships would like to have streamers on their businesses. Car dealerships in other local communities have streamers.

“You’re not going to buy a streamer to place up for 30 days,” Thomas said.

Diane Sauer, owner of Diane Sauer Chevrolet, told council members that streamers cost about $3,000 each.

“Not having streamers places us at a competitive disadvantage,” Sauer said.

Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th ward, told the business owners they also want the corridors to be clean to attract new customers to their stores.

Janet Hazlette, a community activist and member of the council’s Resident Advisory Committee, said updating the sign ordinance is part of the Poggeymeyer study contracted by the city.

“The council would not have had to made the changes if the businesses were policing themselves,” Hazlett said.

Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th ward, questioned if flags and streamers could be allowed, providing that the owners would be fined if they are allowed to deteriorate and are left in disarray.

Bartholomew questioned who would be the judge whether one streamer is in disarray and another is not.

Makosky emphasized businesses can ask for variances from the city’s zoning board to address particular concerns, without making substantive changes in the sign ordinance.

Greg Dulin, owner of Auto Trendz, said he needs to have banners on his building to identify all the different types of jobs he does.

“My business’ name, Auto Trendz, does not tell what services we perform,” Dulin said. “The banners over our bays and on the front of our building tell what kind of services we do.”

Dulin said he could, over time, replace the banners with signs that provide the same information.

Rucker suggested the ordinance could be adjusted to allow a certain amount of flags or streamers based on the size of the lots.

“I never have problems with flags at car dealerships, because they are generally on larger lots,” she said. “Generally, there is a problem only when there are a lot of signs and flags on smaller lots.”