Show me a sign
If anyone is curious why people might not like the city of Medford, Monday’s planning commission gives an easy answer.
Among the issues on the agenda was a discussion regarding temporary yard signs.
The city, like many other communities, has rules about signs. The rules, which are primarily targeted toward commercial signs, regulate things like size and location. For the most part these make sense. A giant billboard-sized sign would be out of place on a residential cul de sac, likewise an itty bitty sign would be silly on a building the size of a supermarket.
Zoning codes serve a purpose in hopefully reducing the friction between individuals in a community. While they make little sense in places where your nearest neighbor is a mile or two away, in more densely settled areas, where when you sneeze and your next door neighbor calls to tell you gesundheit, they are more important.
That said, they must still be firmly grounded in common sense.
Things become problematic when in the desire to follow the rules people forget to apply common sense.
This brings us to Monday’s planning commission meeting and city planner Bob Christensen’s declaration of war against Abiding Care Pregnancy Resource Center over small plastic yard signs.
Declaration of war is perhaps overly dramatic, but only slightly so. You see, the city code doesn’t specifically allow signs like the one showing support for, or listing the services of the private agency that provides support and options to those seeking help with unplanned pregnancies.
In the black and white world of zoning enforcement, if things are not specifically allowed, then they are viewed as prohibited unless the agency jumps through hoops and pays $150 per sign for conditional use permits. It is easy to understand how the supporters of a nonprofit agency might feel defensive and aggressive toward the code enforcer.
In that situation, I likely would end up in trouble by telling the city precisely where they can plant their sign rules.
The black and white rule following way of thinking doesn’t sit well with those of us who stayed awake during civics class, and remember their Bill of Rights, and specifically the 10th amendment which, to simplify, says that people have the power unless they give it to the government.
It is not government’s role to tell me what I can do, but to rather say what can’t be done to protect the health, property or general welfare of society.
Into this a lone city employee has decided to draw a line in the sand telling groups that they need to go through a costly permitting process to have temporary yard signs.
This is nonsense. If the city needs to establish a rule for governing temporary signs, an easy place to start would be to allow all non-commercial signs provided they are maintained and do not become an eyesore. Guidelines could be developed asking that signs promoting community events should likewise be allowed to be placed 30 days ahead of the event and removed within a week of the event unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as the sudden arrival of two feet of snow.
On the commercial side, it is reasonable to allow contractor-related temporary yard signs to be in place through a project and for a few weeks after. As someone who might be in the market to have my roof replaced, it is nice to be able to see the work done by a contractor to decide if I should hire them. While commercially produced yard signs come in fairly standard sizes, the codes could easily be amended to include these.
This is not rocket science, nor is it necessary to get too deep in the weeds. When there are issues they should be resolved with common sense and understanding rather than with a declaration of war, intentional or not.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.