New Fraser sign attracts unwanted attention
April 26, 2011
FRASER – A nearby business is challenging the town’s approval of a new electronic sign at the Fraser Valley Center (Alco Plaza).
Rocky Mountain Chalet owners David Lutz and Diane Wettersten claim the town illegally permitted the new sign without the required public process.
They further state that the flashing/changing messages have negatively impacted their guests’ experience.
The pair have retained attorney David Michel to represent them and have asked to be on the agenda at the town’s May 4 regular meeting.
Curtains not enough
The new LED sign went up April 8. The first weekend it was turned on, the sign displayed a series of brightly lit, animated, stock advertisements that continued to rotate all night long, according to Lutz. His customers staying on the south side of the chalet had to close their curtains to block the sign, and even then the curtains would light up with changing colors.
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Residents up on the hill east of Fraser could even see the sign from their windows.
Some of Lutz’s customers told him the sign was enough of a nuisance that they wouldn’t stay there again.
Management at the Fraser Valley Center wrote a letter to the editor a few days later stating that the sign was left on “through an error in judgment.”
The sign is now on a timer and the center voluntarily turns it off at 8 p.m. each night. A dimmer has been ordered and should be installed in the next few weeks, according to Western Centers Property Manager Paul Allen.
Town Manager Jeff Durbin said he directed his staff to approve the permit based on his understanding of the sign code.
He said the new Alco sign is an “Electronic message center sign,” defined in the code as “a variable-message sign that utilizes computer-generated messages or some other electronic means of changing copy.”
While he didn’t directly cite the code, Section 16-10-330 (business, commercial and accommodation signs) states, “All types of signs shall be permitted in these districts.”
Sign permits are issued administratively and are required in order to erect, move, alter, reconstruct or repair any permanent or temporary sign.
Only signs that are considered “exempt” don’t require a permit.
When a sign application doesn’t fit within the confines of the town’s sign code, a variance is required. The town trustees then refer the issue to the Zoning Board of Adjustments where a public hearing is scheduled, notices posted and neighbors notified.
Not so clear
According to attorney David Michel, the confusion starts under Section 16-10-230 (Exempt signs) which begins, “The following signs are exempt from the permit requirements of this Article and may be placed in any zoning district subject to the provisions of this Article.” Paragraph 11 reads, “Electronic message center signs may be permitted on the interior side of the window only.”
Michel also cited Section 16-10-240 (Prohibited signs), which prohibits, “Flashing, rotating, blinking or moving signs, animated signs, signs with moving, rotating or flashing lights, noisemaking signs, signs with mechanical or electrical appurtenances, such as “revolving beacons,” or signs that create the illusion of movement and are designed to compel attention except for time and temperature devices and electronic message center signs.”
Durbin agrees that Fraser’s sign code leaves too much room for interpretation, but he declined to comment further on the matter because the sign permit already has been issued, the town board has put the complaint on its May 4 agenda and legal action has been threatened.
Pull the permit
Michel said his clients are seeking a rescission of the sign permit. They are asking the town to bring the sign into compliance by allowing the public process to take place. They are asking for more restrictions on the sign with regards to operating times, background colors and dimness, and they are further hoping that the town will relocate the sign to the shopping center’s other entrance.
Michel added that his clients are not upset with the managers of the shopping center. They believe the town did “an inept job of reviewing application and imposing proper restrictions.” He believes the town “denied the public a hearing as well as notice that this nonconforming sign was going up.”
He further stated, “This in not how they’ve dealt with other developers … this is a mind boggling disparity in treatment.”
The Fraser Valley Center wants to be a good neighbor, Allen said: “We weren’t trying to create problems for anyone.”
“We were trying to help people in the down economy by providing a sign that will help our tenants with advertising,” Allen said.
Advertising on the sign is free right now for the center’s tenants, “until we get it up and running. We do anticipate that there would be a fee in the future.”
The center had also hoped to post community events, such as blood drives and meeting dates.
Wettersten said the Chalet is still hearing complaints about the sign from many of its customers who stay on the south side of the building.
“Even with curtains drawn, all you see is constant change in color,” she said. “You immediately know when it gets turned off.”
Lutz added that certain logos can be clearly read through closed curtains.
The Chalet owners are worried about how much more the sign will impact their guests during the winter months when it gets dark earlier. With the ongoing price war between local lodging facilities, visitors have choices, Lutz said.
Wettersten added, “We’re in business of people sleeping and relaxing … If we were a gas station, our feelings might be different.”
Town trustees will consider the Chalet’s complaint when it meets May 4.
“I really hope we can find a positive solution,” Durbin said.
– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610