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AZ Daily Sun: Flagstaff sign code in need of some tweaks

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on April 17, 2014. You can also view the article here.


Flagstaff City Council started the long process of reviewing the city’s sign code ordinance Tuesday evening.

City staff and local business have complained that the 2011 code is too complicated, too restrictive and too hard to understand. A brief presentation of a survey of local businesses from Mike Sistak at the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce reinforced the point.

Of the 140 chamber businesses that responded to the survey, Sistak said 94 said the ordinance was too complicated. Around 54 percent said they would benefit from less regulation on A-frame signs.

Eastman explained A-frame signs fall under the temporary sign part of the ordinance, which means they can only be displayed for a maximum of 60 days per year.

However, the businesses that responded also felt that having an ordinance was important to the upkeep of the city, Sistak said. The chamber received a number of comments from survey takers saying that larger billboards, sloppy signs and unkempt sail banners detract from the community.

A copy of the survey results can be found at


Annette Kershner, a Realtor from Russ Lyon/Sotheby’s International Realty, said she’s had several signs directing customers to open house events picked up by city employees without warning. It wasn’t until after she spoke to the code enforcement office at city hall that she found out why the signs were being removed. The current ordinance does not allow temporary signs directing customers to an event or open house to be placed outside of a subdivision. Kershner’s signs were posted at major streets in order to direct customers to the subdivision.

“It is advantageous to us to be able to put up signs so that people can find their way into a subdivision,” she said. “We put up and take down these signs on a daily basis. Less legislation is important. We have more than 300 agents in the community.”

Ed Goodwin from the Print Raven said he’s had a number of customers who have been dismayed to find out, after purchasing an A-frame sign, that they can only display it 60 days a year.

“The character of the town is important. We don’t want to see run-down signs or too many signs,” he said.

But some small businesses don’t have the money to purchase as many newspaper fliers or ads as some of the big box stores, he said. They also rely on signs to draw a constant stream of business into their stores.

Off-premise signs also make a difference, he said.

“Would you consider running for office without off-premise signs?” Goodwin asked council.


Mayor Jerry Nabours asked what was the most common complaint Goodwin got from customers about the sign ordinance.

The 60-day limit on temporary signs and the cost of a permit to put a sign in a window were probably the most common, he said. A permit to put up business hours in a window costs around $300.

Zoning Code Administrator Roger Eastman agreed that the city needs to find a balance in it sign code. He showed council examples of entire buildings wrapped in giant advertisements in his home country of South Africa. The other extreme was Sedona and Scottsdale, where the code was so restrictive that customers had a hard time finding a business.

Councilmember Mark Woodson asked about off-premise signs, such as the ones used by the Catholic church and the Flagstaff Mall and auto park.

The church sign was part of what’s called a “flag lot,” he explained. It’s a strip of land that connects a business to a road frontage so the business can have a sign at the roadway.

In November, council approved a special off-premise sign for the Flagstaff mall and auto park. The decision was part of settlement agreement between the city and Westcor, the developer of the mall.

Nabours asked what the problem was with allowing off-premise signs.

“Rather than say ‘no,’ why not have some sort of regulation on them?” he suggested. “I’d like to see some exceptions to this.”

Councilmember Celia Barotz suggested making a distinction between an off-premise sign that pointed the way to a business and a sign that advertises a sale.

Councilmember Scott Overton said he was not in favor of changing the off-premise sign rule.

“I’m not in favor of that look. You’re going to have five off-premise signs and one on-premise sign lined up down the street,” he said.

Eastman agreed that if council opened the door to all off-premise commercial signs it could get pretty messy.

“But I’m not sure how we write something that is fair and balanced without limiting some uses,” he said.


Eastman also suggested removing part of the ordinance that allowed businesses to cover up to 25 percent of all the windows on their store with advertisements. This has led some businesses, that have windows on multiple sides to cover one whole side with advertisements, he said.

He recommended leaving the part of the ordinance that limited advertisements to 25 percent of one window pane.

Eastman also suggested the city create a sliding scale for permits based on the size of a sign.

Council thought the idea had merit. It directed staff to look deeper into the idea and return to council with more suggestions.