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Cottage Grove business sign violations getting city’s attention

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They direct drivers to the nearest church, inform patrons of daily specials and let residents know that a new business has opened, but in Cottage Grove many of those commercial signs are in violation of city code.

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The city is stepping up its code enforcement in an attempt to address the growing number of commercial and residential properties with illegal signs.

Several properties in the city, such as the former El Sol Supermercado near 80th Street, which has sat empty since 2011, still have visible signs.

“We need to be more aggressive (with the sign ordinance),” Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said during a recent City Council workshop. “If the business is gone, the sign has to come down. It’s in the ordinance and it needs to happen.”

Bailey questioned the codes of surrounding communities and said Cottage Grove needs to “do a better job of giving notice” of violating signs. He also asked about adding language to the current ordinance relating to maintenance standards and setting a length of time a sign can be visible.

City Engineer Jennifer Levitt said the city needs to strike a balance between being business friendly and having good aesthetics.

“We don’t want to put undue hardships on the business or always be carrying around the hammer,” she said.

Other signs in the community, such as those on the sides of fast food restaurants, even ones that navigate parishioners to local churches, are in violation of city code.

Council member Justin Olsen said instead of creating an entirely new ordinance, code enforcement officers need to be correctly enforcing existing ordinances.

“There is a code in place that says Hollywood Video shouldn’t have a broken window,” Olsen said as an example. “If the law is not enforced, the law’s no good. We aren’t holding commercial property owners accountable enough for maintenance.”

Olsen referenced vacant properties along Highway 61, saying because of the city’s lax enforcement, the buildings have blighted a main traffic corridor.

“Things that look scrubby speak to what your town looks like,” he said. “There are a lot of properties along the 61 corridor that look crappy. And that’s not OK. Perception goes a long way.”

The council is expected to meet with the Planning Commission to discuss more ideas that would create an ordinance with more teeth. A violation of the existing sign ordinance is a misdemeanor that could be punishable with a fine.

In the meantime, commercial and residential properties with violating signage should be prepared to get a notice as early as this week.

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Emily Buss
Emily Buss joined the South Washington County Bulletin in February 2013. She covers local government in Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport, along with other general assignment reporting. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
(651) 459-4629
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