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Cottage Grove ordinance updates aim to declutter signs in city

New business growth in Cottage Grove in the last year has prompted the city’s code enforcement department to re-evaluate existing sign regulations on both commercial and public properties.

The idea, City Engineer Jennifer Levitt said, is to create a more uniform set of standards as the influx of new businesses in the city continues to grow. A recent tour of the city turned up several prohibited signs, including many that aren’t addressed at all in the city’s code.

During a recent joint workshop between the City Council and Planning Commission, officials discussed drive-thru menu boards and yard sale signs to scoreboard ads and projecting signs, even costumed characters as they relate to marketing.

The discussion took into consideration sign package as a whole, including the name of the establishment, logos, on- and off-premise signs, even certain colors as counting toward the overall number of marketing tools.

One type of business officials targeted was fast food restaurants. With a number of window ads, large cardboard signs depicting meals and several direction indicators at various restaurants, some council and commission members leaned toward more limits.

“It just seems like the boards are getting bigger and bigger and some are so big you can see them from (Highway) 61,” said commission member Wayne Johnson.

Proposed is reducing the number of menu boards to two per drive-thru lane, prohibiting ads attached to menu boards and prohibiting temporary signs, such as over-sized boards depicting meals.

Garage sale signs also were debated.

Not currently addressed in the existing ordinance, garage sale signs each year inundate newly-appointed commission member Kim Graff’s yard at a busy intersection along 70th Street.

Graff suggested requiring residents who want to stake a garage sale sign in someone’s yard to obtain permission, an idea added to the proposed updates.

Also recommended was limiting the amount of time a yard sale sign can be posted to three days, and prohibiting residents from attaching signs to traffic lights, light poles, trees, or similar structures.

While the consensus was to prohibit most off-premise signs and better regulate the deluge of garage sale signs on busy street corners, some city officials were concerned that stricter rules might cast the city as unfriendly.

“I don’t want to be known as ‘Oh, that’s Cottage Grove. I have a lot of marketing materials for my business but I can’t use any of it,’” said Chris Reese, a Planning Commission member. “I don’t want to have that stigma attached to us that if they move here they can’t use any of their marketing tools.”

City Council member Dave Thiede added he didn’t want to create new regulations “for the sake of regulating.”

“We want to be sensitive to the aesthetic look of the city but we also want to be sensitive of the business community,” Levitt said.

Despite that several existing signs on commercial properties were listed as non-conforming, or even prohibited, Levitt said the majority of hard signs will be grandfathered in.

The Community Development Department is drafting the broader ordinance to address the 24 different kinds of signs found throughout Cottage Grove.

A public sign ordinance presentation will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 17, at Cottage Grove City Hall.