Aspen officials hold off on sandwich board regulations | AspenTimes.com

Aspen officials hold off on sandwich board regulations

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times The city of Aspen is looking at revisions to its sign code that would reduce the number of sandwich board-style signs seen around town.

Aspen City Council on Monday agreed to kick the can on regulating sandwich boards for at least another year.

Council passed on first reading an ordinance that keeps the status quo in not enforcing the elimination of the signs within the city until September 2019. The ordinance will be finalized next week.

The move is in response to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires municipal sign code regulations to be "content neutral."

The decision renders most regulations in the country unconstitutional and forces municipalities to regulate in ways that are not focused on what a sign says.

Concerned that there would be a proliferation of signs and businesses renting out their sandwich boards to large companies for advertising as a result of the high court's ruling, city officials recommended council enact further regulations.

Last year, the city hired consultant Mark White, who is a national leader in the development of sign codes as it relates to the Supreme Court ruling, to assist with new regulations. That led to the majority of council voting in August 2017 to have all sandwich boards eliminated in an attempt to preserve community aesthetics.

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But council also voted to delay enforcement of that until Sept. 28 to accommodate local business owners in their desire to advertise on the street.

With that deadline looming, council asked staff to come up with other options.

But the majority of council members on Monday didn't feel any of the options get to their goal of maintaining the status quo and ensuring equity between business types and locations, while complying with the Supreme Court's decision.

More research needs to be done, Councilwoman Ann Mullins said.

"I don't think we've come up with an equitable solution yet," she said, asking for information on what other mountain towns are doing in response to the high court's ruling.

City Attorney Jim True said towns across the country are struggling with how to proceed.

Councilman Adam Frisch said he prefers holding off for multiple years, pointing out that council has more important issues to deal with.

A handful of retailers told council at its Monday meeting that their sandwich signs are important, if not crucial, to their business.

"I depend on my sandwich board a lot, … it's a big part of my business," said Susan Harvey, owner of Susie's Limited consignment store, which is located 50 feet from the sidewalk and under an overhang in the Concept 600 building. "My board is the only thing that lets people driving by know I'm there."

Working with the parameters that regulations must be focused on the size, type, location and appearance of signs, city planners provided four alternatives for council's consideration.

The one ultimately chosen was the third one — delay the enforcement of the existing regulations for one year.

The other options included allowing one sign per business that is located in what the city determines as a second-tier space, and is in a building containing a restaurant or retail store.

Another option was allowing one sandwich board sign per commercial building in which a restaurant or retailer is located. Multiple businesses could advertise on one sign and tenants would share the space on it.

Council also considered a fourth option, which was to take no action to amend the sign regulations and allow existing permits to expire.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein preferred voting on a hybrid, which included one sign per building that has a second-tier space in it, but he couldn't get support from council.

Until now, the city has had a hands-off approach on enforcing sandwich boards while regulations remained in limbo.

As a result, many businesses have put up signs but have not paid for permits because they were not made available by the city while it sorted out its options.

New businesses will not be able to apply for permits for the next year while the law remains in limbo, although existing ones can renew.

Council directed staff to begin enforcing those who haven't paid and who are putting out multiple signs.

Jim Pomeroy, the city's code enforcement officer, said he is seeing two or three new sandwich boards a week in the downtown core. He estimated that about a quarter of all signs do not have permits.

csackariason@aspentimes.com