Council Listens to Proposed Sign Code Changes

County Principal Planner Gary Leikness presents recommendations to Council on changes to the local sign code. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost

Council begins to question County Principal Planner Gary Leikness about staff recommendations to change certain portions of the sign code. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost

Staff Report

In the past, both the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce survey and CDD (then) Community and Economic Development (CED) administrative experience confirmed that the existing sign code is cumbersome to use and interpret for both staff and the general public.
 
In some sections the Code is too restrictive and lacks flexibility. In other sections it was too vague and fails to address certain important regulatory issues. It also fails to recognize newer and more creative types of signage such as district identification signs, projecting signs, and off-premises business directional signs, and electronic message centers (EMC.)
 
Major Provisions of the Sign Code Ordinance:
 
Sign codes are often among the most difficult codes to write and often contentious. A well-written code must strike a fine balance between free speech rights, the needs of the business community, and the need to maintain an attractive and positive community appearance.
 
The proposed sign code attempts to do this, as well as to introduce many new code features and improvements that are not in the current code.
 
In summary:
 
1. The draft completely reorganizes the sign code article with the intent to make it easier to read and find specific regulations.
2. It removes ambiguous language to allow faster, simpler and more accurate administration of the code.
3. It adds illustrations and more thorough definitions and requirements.
4. It expands the number and type of signs that can be installed without a permit; for example commercial window signs meeting standards for total window coverage
5. A new provision would require all “non-conforming” signs to be brought up to code when a sign and business have been determined to be abandoned.
6. A new provision would require all “non-conforming” signs to be brought up to code if a property owner increases an existing business building by 25 percent in size or remodel.
7. It allows sign permit applicants with unusual site situations or needs to request a “waiver” from provisions of the code from the Board of Adjustment.
8. It would allow for electronic message boards in certain locations and with certain conditions attached.
9. It maintains the current ban on billboards.
10. It modifies sign heights to allow sign heights of up to 20 feet in Sign Area 5, 15-feet in Area 4, and an increase in sign heights along Central Avenue (Generally Sign Area 3) from 4-feet in height to 10-feet.
11. It clarifies rules for home occupation and home business signs.
12. It allows for the installation of new types of signs that are currently not allowed such as district identification signs, information kiosk signs, and off-site business directional signs.
13. It establishes the opportunity and possibility in the future for the County to pursue a County maintained way-finding sign program.
 
Alternatives:
 
Council could choose not to adopt the new Sign Code Ordinance and either maintain the existing Sign Code or provide staff direction on further changes and revisions for a new Sign Code Ordinance to be considered at a future date.
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