The many banners, marquees and signs, illuminated and otherwise, that direct people moving through Soldotna to the town’s various businesses could see some potential tweaks in the future as the city prepares to revise its sign code.
Members of the Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission met for a work session directly after their regular meeting Wednesday to discuss the code, the process for revising it and what sign-related issues they would like to see tackled in that revision. The code, which lies in chapter 15.08 of the Soldotna city code, was last updated in 2013, though City Planner John Czarnezki said the last major revision was back in 2007.
Czarnezki presented to the commission issues city staff has found with the current sign code, such as contradictions and numerous entries in the code’s definition section that don’t come up again throughout the code text.
“There’s just lots of inconsistencies,” Czarnezki said of the code. “It’s also been amended a number of times from an old start and it doesn’t address some of the newer technologies that we want to look at. It also doesn’t adequately address … there’s been a lot of Supreme Court cases on signage and free speech and we need to bring our code into this century and make sure that it passes a legal test.”
Electronic and illuminated signs were brought up numerous times throughout the work session and several commission members noted that the city will likely see an increase in those signs in the coming years, and expressed their wishes to make sure they are well regulated in the sign code.
Updating the sign code is listed as a “high priority” in Soldotna’s comprehensive plan. Czarnezki said city staff have been talking about revising it for a long time and that it was a matter of finding time between administrative staff and the commissioners.
Czarnezki has put together a template of what the revised sign code could look like in outline form, and commission members will go through the template topic by topic during upcoming work sessions, which will all be open to the public. He said he hopes to have the code revision complete within a year. The commission will hold work sessions following its regular meetings at least once per month, twice per month if possible, he said. Commissioners noted working on the code will be more difficult during summer months when they tend to have more issues and requests to review.
“If we get a bunch of permits that come in the door, it’s going to set us back,” Czarnezki said. “If we have special projects we’re working on, it’s going to set us back. We’re taking advantage of every minute we have and trying to get it rolling.”
One reason the code revision process will take significant time is that it will require more public input compared to revising other sections of code, Czarnezki said. Much of Wednesday’s work session was devoted to brainstorming ways to include business owners and city residents in the process.
Commission member Kaitlin Vadla emphasized the importance of inviting general members of the public to give their input, since they are the ones looking at the signs and moving throughout the community. She suggested including somewhere in the code wording that takes into account pedestrians and cyclists when regulating signs.
“It’s big in the sense that the sign code … affects so many people,” he said. “It affects the entire community.”
Commission members debated how to best reach out to local business owners to gather their feedback. The work sessions will be informal in the sense that those who attend will not need to wait to give formal testimony, like at a council meeting, but can chime in with suggestions throughout the discussions.
“We want to make sure because … it has such a big effect that we reach people and that they have participated and feel comfortable with it,” Czarnezki said.
At the commission’s next work session, members will work on finding the best title in Soldotna’s city code for the sign code to fall under, as well as go over the code’s purpose and intent and its relationship to state law, among other code components. The commission meets in Soldotna City Hall at 5:30 p.m. every other week.