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Heidi Shaffer, Published October 19 2010

Despite opposition, new sign code OK'd in Fargo

Fargo will adopt a new city sign code after more than a year of debate and opposition from the industry.

The City Commission voted 5-0 on Monday to approve an updated code, despite an hour and a half of testimony from the sign industry against the changes.

The changes adopted Monday are a complete rewrite of the code and include new definitions and regulations on almost every aspect of signage in the city.

The code will only apply to new sign permits, so existing signs would be grandfathered in. A new amendment Monday will also allow signs that fall out of compliance to be replaced as long as owners register them with the city in the next two months.

Commissioners Dave Piepkorn and Brad Wimmer sat on the committee that created the first draft of the new code and tried to balance concerns of the business community and residents.

“We tried to come up with some middle ground,” Wimmer said.

But industry leaders were looking for additional concessions from the commission.

Russ Newman, owner of Newman Outdoor signs, asked for an amendment that would allow larger- sized billboards along arterials.

The code reduces the size of new billboards throughout Fargo except in industrial areas and along the interstates.

The commission asked planning staff for a map of the areas that would be affected if they made a provision to allow signs along the arterials and will consider the change at the Nov. 1 meeting.

Owners in the portable sign industry also asked the commission to reconsider some of their new restrictions, which largely limit the fixtures to commercial areas.

The new code also limits the amount of time signs could be displayed to 14 days up, then 14 days down, but limited to 84 days on one site per year.

The commissioners didn’t change any of the new regulations of portable signs.

Wimmer said there were already compromises made throughout the draft process, and the new document allows portable signs to be up for more days per year than West Fargo and Moorhead’s codes.

But portable sign owners did not feel the city went far enough on its compromises.

“This isn’t a sign draft. It’s a sign ban,” said Sarah Bolton, the former owner of Bolton’s Signs.

Bolton has been through changes to the city’s sign code before. She and her husband referred a 2004 amendment of the code to voters.

In 2006, 52 percent of voters came out in opposition of the Fargo City Commission’s decision to increase sign regulations, including stricter policies on portable signs, banners and other yard signs.

“We’re right back to where we were,” she said after the meeting. “It’s exhausting.”

The code will likely go into effect in the next month, but Mayor Dennis Walaker asked planning staff to review it in six months to see if any amendments are needed at that time.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511