CONCORD -- Worried small business owners who depend on signage, met with a city planner to learn how city code changes might impact them.
Without a special permit, Concord code now prohibits signs on light standards, animated signs and off-site signs, including vehicles, flags, pennants and streamers, balloons, objects and animals, portable signs, feather signs and A-frame signs (except for cafes).
With a history of restrictive sign controls and uneven enforcement, the Concord City Council asked the staff to review sign rules not updated since 1953, according to Cathy Munneke, principal planner for the city of Concord.
The council recently approved staff recommendations for new rules covering dealers that sell new cars. Now planners are addressing Article IV. Division 7, which applies to temporary signs, other than real estate signs that are regulated by a separate ordinance.
"It is my task to find out what you need," Munneke told business owners at the October meeting of the Concord Small Business Association.
Berkshire Books owner Lynn Kuehl explained the importance of an A-frame sign to his business.
"My customers tell me that because I am set back from the street on Clayton Road, where cars park in front of the businesses, the sign is how they find me."
Brick and mortar small businesses now compete with Internet enterprises which may avoid regulatory expenses and fees. Local owners asked for "simple rules on a one-sheet handout" and low or no fees.
"That is something that merchants can buy into," business owner Rich Eber said.
Generally, Concord city fees have been assessed to cover the cost of the service provided, not to make a profit for the municipality, according to a consensus at the meeting.
"The fees are something that has come in over time," Kuehl observed later. "It has a cumulative effect. From the standpoint of the small business, it doesn't translate into more service."
Whether to require an application, a fee or permit, the length of time allowed, the location (regarding safety) and sign sizes were among the topics discussed.
"I would rather pay for enforcement than record keeping," said Councilman Edi Birsan.
"What about the city?" one person asked. "In Richmond, the city must live up to the same standards as the public. There are city signs that would be in violation."
There appeared to be a meeting of the minds on one point. Business people hope the new sign ordinance will make it easier to meet city requirements and get a permit, if required.
"We really don't want city staff to spend tons of time on (reviewing permits)," Munneke agreed.
Concord Small Business Association president and Argent bank manager Virginia Thomas said, "I think (city planners) get it."
Councilman Ron Leone, who initially encouraged Munneke to meet with businesses, was a silent observer throughout the meeting.
Munneke said she expects to meet with the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, the Todos Santos Business Association, a Monument Boulevard group, shopping center owners and others before making recommendations.
"If they are going to allow auto dealerships to have signage, I understand that," Kuehl said after the meeting. "I am just hoping that the city will be equally reasonable with us."
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