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Sign changes a step in right direction

A proposed city of Medford ordinance regulating yard signs in the community is a step in the right direction.

Under current interpretation of the city’s zoning rules, because the ubiquitous yard signs are not specially listed as being allowed, city staff has determined that they are not allowed.

The underlying intent of the sign rules is to govern commercial advertising signs. The city has stated it has no jurisdiction, nor any intention to set up rules for political signs and already has rules in place for garage and yard sale signs.

Caught in the crossfire of attempts to prevent commercial signs from cluttering up city roadways, are signs promoting things like church festivals, community causes, support for teachers, and cheering on local sports teams.

Things came to a head earlier this fall when the city told Abiding Care Pregnancy Resource Center that they would need conditional use permits for each of the nonprofit agency’s yard signs around the city.

While attention-grabbing, choosing to draw the line in the sand against a popular agency that exists to help those facing unplanned pregnancies was like taking a howitzer to go deer hunting. You might get your deer, but you will also cause a lot of collateral damage.

Last week, the city’s planning commission made its initial review of a proposed revision to the sign ordinance. The review brought in some much-needed common sense guidelines about how yard signs are to be handled.

The draft ordinance is a good start on addressing the concerns raised. The rules it puts in place for contractor and construction-related signs make sense. This makes it easy for people to follow the rules.

Where the proposed ordinance still needs some work is in the proposed rules for informational signs for nonprofit or community groups/events. The ordinance language puts an arbitrary limit of 20 yard signs. While this would be a lot of signs if they were all on the same residential street, when spread over the nearly five square miles in the city limits, it would greatly diminish their impact. Concentrating sign placement along highly traveled corridors would lead to the type of sign clutter that the rule is trying to prevent. It also opens the door to an enforcement headache and the potential of needing someone from the city to go around counting yard signs to ensure that community members are not showing too much support for an organization or cause.

City leaders must also look at the arbitrary sign size limits being imposed. The proposed ordinance limits temporary signs and banners to 10 square feet. Typical event banners that have been used by established groups and organizations for years are close to twice that size. The city shouldn’t set up groups to be in violation of the rules.

There is a lot to like in the proposed ordinance, but like most things, it needs more work before it is put in the code book.