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Heidi Shaffer, Published January 11 2011

Fargo continues discussion over new sign code

Debate over Fargo’s new sign code continued Monday, but this time discussion focused on what will happen in the interim if commissioners decide not to repeal the ordinance and it goes to voters in June 2012.

Petitioners turned in 1,700 signatures to repeal the new sign code enacted last month that places greater restrictions on the size and placement of signs throughout the city.

On Monday, City Attorney Erik Johnson pointed out a potential problem that may result when commissioners receive the verified petitions on Jan. 24 and decide whether to repeal the new sign code or send it to a public vote.

When the new ordinance was enacted last month, the old sign code was repealed.

By some interpretations of city ordinances, Fargo would be without any sign code if the new one is suspended awaiting the next general election, Johnson said.

The commission voted 5-0 on the first reading of a temporary fix that would prohibit signs that don’t comply with the old sign code.

In the meantime, planning staff will begin the process of re-adopting the old sign code ordinance, a process that will likely take several months, Johnson said.

Discussion is now stretching into its second year, and emotions from those in the sign industry were still running high Monday when commissioners took public comments on the sign code for about 45 minutes.

“This is absolutely a demonstration of how hard we fight for our customers,” said Jody Boeckel of Boeckel Mobile Advertising.

Portable-sign owners said the yearlong process to write the code didn’t take sign industry input until too late in the process.

Commissioner Brad Wimmer, who sat on the committee, reiterated that the process was a fair one.

“We really did try to compromise,” he said. “We weren’t trying to make one side a winner or loser.”

In other business, the commission voted 5-0 to move forward with a tax increment financing agreement for a new development that will replace Shotwell Floral along 13th Avenue South with new townhomes.

The agreement, with Fargo architect Terry Stroh, will move on to city finance and review committees before coming back to the commission for final approval.

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