BOUNTIFUL -- City leaders have reached an impasse over a plan to lift a seven-year ban on electronic message signs.
City council members debated for more than an hour last week the merits of a proposed change in the city's sign ordinance addressing electronic message centers. Mayor Joe Johnson and City Manager Gary Hill then attempted to break the deadlock by establishing some common ground, but no vote was taken on the proposal. The council is expected to take up the issue again in June.
The planning commission spent five months crafting proposed changes defining electronic message boards, their allowed sizes and locations permitted. Planners also set how the signs are to be operated, and they formed a process for issuing permits for the signs.
The proposed changes also address specific areas of the city where the signs would be permitted, which include Orchard Drive, where a new Goldenwest Credit Union is being built. Three credit union officials spoke during the public hearing. At one point, one official verbally sparred over signage with Councilman Fred Moss, who worries that more electronic signs in the city won't be good for residents.
City leaders enacted a moratorium on signs seven years ago, based on an electronic sign currently at 200 West and 400 North, which still has some council members angry. They say the sign is not operating the way it was designed to and has become visually polluting.
"We've never had any good experience with the one on Fourth North," Moss said. "It's still not operating the way it's supposed to operate. I just don't understand why we're considering allowing them anywhere but Fifth West. I don't understand why we want to have them all over our cities, when most cities are considering banning them altogether."
Councilwoman Beth Holbrook said an electronic sign allows a small business to advertise itself and to survive. She said they become particularly important to businesses in a city that is mostly built out like Bountiful.
Rich Evans, with Goldenwest Credit Union, said his company uses electronic signage for service in the way it interacts with the community. He said the company has electronic signage at all of its 21 branches and said it would hamper the company if it were prevented from putting up one at a new location on Orchard Drive.
Moss challenged Evans, saying the company had to know the city was not allowing them on Orchard Drive as part of its current sign ordinance.
"You knew coming in, there were no electronic boards on Orchard Drive. You're trying to make us feel guilty, like you won't succeed unless you give us a sign," Moss said.
Evans said he did not appreciate Moss putting words in his mouth.
Another businessman, Gordon Holbrook, of Gordon's Printing, appealed for an electronic sign, saying he needs it to make his business more visually appealing. He said his old sign was damaged in the 2011 windstorm and he had saved money to replace it with an electronic sign. He said he was surprised to find there was a ban on the new-style signs.
Councilman Marc Knight said he doesn't want to throw away five months' worth of work by the planning commission, and Councilman Richard Higginson said he supports the new signage as long as some restrictions make them reasonable and plausible.
"If they are reasonable, I don't have a problem. If they are going to be obnoxious and an eyesore, I have a problem with them," Higginson said.
Councilman Tom Tolman wants to make sure any changes in sign guidelines don't lead to another flap similar to that over the existing message board on Fourth North. He said:
"The problem some of us are having is when we made that mistake on Fourth. It still leaves a nasty taste in our mouth."