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What's Wrong with Projecting Signs in Royal Oak?

Enforcement of the city's sign ordinance comes into question at the strategic planning session.

Signs that project over the right-of-way need to be approved by the planning commission.
Signs that project over the right-of-way need to be approved by the planning commission.
In 1971, after at least two years of discussion, the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce and city officials began feeling out city businesses about an ordinance that would ban roof signs, projecting signs and signs painted on buildings. 

"Some parts of town are getting a little like Vegas," Edward Katz owner of ACME Sign Shop, told the Daily Tribune in 1971. "We are not that type of town to have wild, multi-lighted kinds of signs."

The Tribune noted regulating signs in the city may be a problem – 43 years later it still is.


'Why enforce the sign ordinance?'


"My issue is the phone calls I get saying, 'Why are you enforcing the sign ordinance on this person?' If it's in the ordinance, I enforce it," said Jason Craig, chief building official, at the strategic planning meeting on Saturday.

"We get the feeling our elected officials don't like the ordinance," City Manager Don Johnson said. "We get what I consider an outrageous number of variances being granted by the planning commission. So if you guys obviously don't like the ordinance, I'd suggest, if that's the case, you ought to be changing it instead of having these requirements that you really don't want to enforce."

Of the 20 or so requests for sign variances in 2013, only one was denied by the planning commission.

Mayor Jim Ellison, who is a member of the planning commission, was adamant the ordinance stay in place. The city needs to make a case-by-case assessment when it comes to signs projecting over the public right-of-way, roof signs and long list of other banned sign types, Ellison said.

"We don't want to give blanket approval," the mayor said.

The problem with projecting signs


So what exactly is the problem with projecting signs?

When a business is allowed to have a projecting sign, its neighbor will argue, "Well mine needs to be bigger, higher and out further because your sign blocks my sign," according to Tim Thwing, Royal Oak's planning director.

"I'll give you a reason why you don't want a sign projecting in the right-of-way," said City Engineer Matt Callahan. "The Sign of the Beefcarver has a gigantic projecting sign over the right-of-way and the only place we could build a new water main down Woodward was underneath that sign. It was very difficult to put a backhoe out there on the sidewalk under that sign and, in fact, the sign got damaged because the backhoe hit it during construction."

Another problem with projecting signs is that they accumulate snow, which freezes, thaws, turns into ice and then is knocked onto the sidewalk by the wind, Ellison said.

'There always be conflict'


The city manager said he receives phones calls from city commissioners mad at the building department for enforcing the ordinance.

"There is always going to be conflict in your world. We just have to deal with it better," said Commissioner Peggy Goodwin. "I don't think the ordinance needs amending."
Jack Manning January 23, 2014 at 11:45 AM
The biggest problem with protruding signs especially over sidewalks is the strong potential to either kill or severely injure pedestrians walking below. Strong winds can loosen or cause signs to fall, and accumulated ice can come-loose and fall and injuring pedestrians. All of this potential injury is further enhanced over time as sign anchors attached to the building deteriorate. I can't believe under any circumstances that City Planners would allow these types of signs. Many cities have banned them altogether with no variances.
Jack Manning January 23, 2014 at 11:46 AM
Justine: Signs are basically visual pollution.
niteman January 23, 2014 at 02:17 PM
Jack: Always looking on the bright side I see... Personally, I like seeing the signs protrude. Especially Hamlin and the new Co. 512 (whenever that opens). It really sets things apart and adds personality. Royal Oak just needs to take into account how it affects and works with the next business neighbor (first come - first serve). As far as worrying about potential injury, a beer bottle or barbecue lid could fall from a balcony above too but I don't see a reason to ban everything based on possibilities.
The Duke of Royal Oak January 23, 2014 at 05:06 PM
It comes down to this, the signs are allowed or not allowed. Period. Why are some business's allowed and whom decides and how? As Mr. Callahan stated the danger exist no matter what. So why are there any variances, safety is safety!
l.c. February 03, 2014 at 06:00 PM
"safety is safety". tell that to second street sub shop who erect a sidewalk sign next to their sidewalk tables next to a parking signpost.

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