Conflict arise over business signs in Helena

By Jonathan Hardison

HELENA, AL (WBRC) - Business owners say the temporary signs are helping them stay afloat in this recession, but some city leaders think too many of them clutters the city's roadways.

It may seem like a billboard-sized story from of a stamp-sized issue, but Helena's business owners say they're seeing a lot of companies closing and keeping their signs up is a key to keeping the for sale sign out of their windows.

Helena's has had sign laws for years that limit the size and the amount of time you can have temporary signs in front of a business.
 But the city had been turning a blind-eye to violators of that law until 3 weeks ago.

"There was a period there where we were kind of overlooking the fact that they weren't permitted, but it just got to be junky-looking," said Helena Councilwoman Cris Nelson. "So we said ok, we're going to do a clean sweep, it'll make some people unhappy. Obviously we did, but everybody's going to play by the same rules."

Those rules have business owners crying foul.

"Since we do so many things we needed to get that message out there," business owner Adam George told the council. "Whenever Helena started enforcing the sign ordinance, it actually hurt our business two-fold because I couldn't put up the small signs. Number 2, I make them for a lot of the businesses around Helena."

George told the council the Frankie's Market business went from selling 25 or 30 buckets of peaches a day to just 4 or 5 after it was forced to take its signs down.

With several Helena businesses closing and the city's sales tax collections down, George says it's in everyone's interest to fix the problem.

Council members said they understood the issue, and are willing to look at some changes.

"I think our ordinances need to be changed to extend the time given to businesses and give them more time to get their message out to the public," said councilman Jerry Pate.

"We don't have all the answers and those that are out there do," Nelson said. "So we're willing to listen to having more square footages for signs so that the businesses can have their signs, but everybody's gonna play by the same rules."

Helena's mayor appointed a committee of local business owners to come up with recommendations on how to change the city's sign laws to meet their needs.

Those suggestions are due in 2 weeks. Meanwhile, businesses who want to put their signs back up can get permits from the city to stick them back out on the street until then.

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