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091219-nws-mobile-signs

Jordan Hauck, owner of Here's Your Sign, stands in front of one of his mobile signs placed in the parking lot of Capital City Restaurant Supply in north Bismarck on Wednesday.

The Bismarck City Commission is considering limiting how long businesses can place portable signs, after receiving complaints from residents. The idea is drawing opposition from the sign industry.

The proposal by city staff would limit how long businesses can display small movable signs to 180 days a year. If passed, businesses would not be allowed to display signs for more than six sessions of up to 30 days each.

“Some of the complaints are for encroachments on the right of way, blocking traffic control devices, signs being located within what we call ‘sight vision triangles’ -- so at an intersection," Ben Ehreth, Bismarck's director of community development, said during the meeting. He did not specify the number of complaints received.

The proposal also would allow for one portable sign for each “street frontage,” or land in front of a building, Ehreth said. Larger properties could display up to two portable signs, he said.

According to the proposal, “multiple representatives” from the portable sign industry have expressed opposition to the ordinance. Three attended Tuesday night's city commission meeting, with two speaking out against the proposal, including Awesome Signs owner Dwayne Hagel.

“It would take me out of business,” he said after the meeting. “People would only be able to rent for half a year. The people that rent it, need it, wouldn’t be able to get it because they would already have their duration done."

Bismarck businesses can display portable signs for an unlimited period of time. The city recommended the display time limits after meeting with members of “the local sign industry and business representatives,” according to the proposal. It said the city proposed the changes to city code to address public safety by “mitigating traffic hazards through obstruction of view, distraction of roadway users, and all other negative effects on portable travel.”

“Visual clutter” is another concern mentioned in the proposal, which aims to “improve the legibility of existing (traffic) signs, including traffic control devices, and enhance the overall aesthetics of the community."

Jordan Hauck, owner of Here’s Your Sign, said in an interview that he thinks the ordinance would unfairly punish the industry.

“It’s not us people who want to set a sign on a particular business’s lot -- to portray that business -- every day, it’s the people who are putting it across town to advertise a business that’s 5 miles away,” Hauck said.

Commissioner Nancy Guy expressed support for the 180-day regulation.

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“It seems to me though that if you have a sign up -- a moveable sign, a portable sign -- if you have it up for more than six to eight months you're talking about a permanent sign. And then it should be something that's not moveable,” Guy said. "I guess that's my rub with not having any duration."

In her comments, Guy cited Mandan's municipal code, which bars businesses from displaying "temporary signs" more than 240 days a year. The restriction does not apply to construction, real estate and political signs.

All five Bismarck commissioners present at the meeting had questions.

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“If I have a sign, I can move it every 30 days, even if I can keep it on the same property?” Commissioner Shawn Oban said. “Can’t you just go out there and push it a little bit?”

Ehreth replied his staff hasn’t discussed how far business owners would have to move the signs.

“In theory, it would have to be moved off premises,” he said.

Oban also asked how it would be regulated. Ehreth said the city would require businesses to provide a list of when and where the signs are installed.

Zenker pointed out the city already has an ordinance barring encroaching on the right of way.

“A red flag just went up,” he said.

The public will have opportunities to give testimony on the proposal during the Sept. 25 Bismarck Planning and Zoning Commission meeting and likely at the Oct. 22 city commission meeting.

“I am looking forward to the public hearing on this,” Mayor Steve Bakken said.

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Reach Andy Tsubasa Field at 701-250-8264 or andy.field@bismarcktribune.com.

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