. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

As Artesia City Councilor Bill Rogers put it Friday, “I think we’ve got two different issues here.”

The ongoing debate over amendments to Chapter 11 of the Artesia Municipal Code regarding the regulation and restriction of signage raged on Friday during a public meeting at City Hall that was attended by a handful of small business owners and representatives of the Artesia Chamber of Commerce, Artesia MainStreet, and the Artesia Arts Council.

While Community Development director Jim McGuire admitted the catalyst for the proposed code additions was the recent influx of billboards around Artesia and surrounding areas, when his department began examining the code, they noticed the city had essentially no detailed restrictions on signs.

By the time the regulations were written and their associated definitions added to the code, Artesia’s near-non-existent sign ordinance had grown substantially in size.

That was perhaps the most prevalent complaint heard from both citizens and councilors alike Friday: It’s just so long.

Where billboards alone are concerned, there exists little contention.

Billboards have been springing up rapidly in recent months around Artesia – where the newest reside at the corner of Bulldog Boulevard and Main Street, and, in digital form, at the corner of Seventh Street and Main – Carlsbad and Roswell, as well as along U.S. 285 on the communities’ outskirts.

Making sure they don’t get out of control or encroach on Artesia’s downtown district was the original reason for examining the issue of signage regulation.

Tom Palmer, a real estate manager for Lindmark Outdoor Media, told the council Friday his company agrees with the bulk of the restrictions on billboards and would suggest taking the spacing regulations in the current draft of the code amendments even further, from 1,500 feet in a straight line between billboards to a 1,500-foot radius to cover the opposite side of the street.

“I did some rough calculations, and it looks like you could probably put up around 50 or so billboards inside city limits based on what you have here,” Palmer said. “That’s a lot. “If you go to radius measurements, you’re probably looking at about half as much.”

“You definitely don’t want billboards coming into our historical district, and I agree with that,” said Laurie Schotz, executive director of the Artesia Arts Council. “We want to preserve and keep that history.

“But I think the rest of this goes a little too far.”

Business owners and related organization officials said Friday they feel the scope of the ordinance is too broad and its requirements regarding size, placement and installation of signs too daunting.

Cindy Polk, who, along with husband Bill, are first-time business owners of Simply Bello, told the council that had the sign regulations existed in their current form when they were considering purchasing the local kitchen shop, it may have changed their minds.

“We bought it because we didn’t want to see another empty building go in there on Main Street,” said Polk. “And if we had had to put up a sign where we had to come to you guys, hire an engineer, hire a contractor, hire an electrician, it would’ve scared me to death. We wouldn’t have started a business if we had to do all that.

“It’s a very large expense when you’re starting a business. Artesia’s a small town, and we rely on small business. I feel that this is going to push people out that want to start a business or even repair a sign.”

Other attendees expressed concern over the types of signs listed as prohibited in the proposed ordinance, such as signs that move, blink, flash or scroll; mobile signs; and signs that extend above the roof line.

While it has been stated such signs already in place in Artesia would be “grandfathered in,” should those signs have to be replaced, the new regulations would apply.

Roy Haynes of Artesia Lock & Key said he recently purchased a $22,000 sign that includes a digital, scrolling portion.

“From what I understand, if it gets damaged beyond repair, I can’t replace it,” Haynes said. “My insurance pays for a replacement. That’s why I put it up there.”

Haynes also questioned the ordinance’s proposal that damaged signs or frames and poles currently bereft of signage would need to be removed at the owner’s expense.

“When you go to sell a piece of property or want to rent a piece of property, that sign frame is something that you can add to the value of the property,” he said. “And if I’ve got to pay somebody to go take it down, that’s going to come out of my pocket. I don’t think that’s quite right.”

Elisabeth Jackson and Hayley Klein, executive directors of Artesia MainStreet and the Artesia Chamber of Commerce respectively, said the biggest concern they’ve heard from local business owners is that the proposed regulations are difficult to interpret.

“It feels a little burdensome, a little heavy, a little hard to understand, and it potentially limits creativity,” said Klein. “Some of the neatest signs in town, signs that we love and that we’ve grown up with and see every day, wouldn’t be allowed under the new draft of this ordinance, and that’s a shame.

“I think it would stifle some of the character and creativity of our community.”

Schotz said the arts council is currently fundraising to cover the cost of repairs to their digital marquee at the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center and stated that being unable to replace the sign should it become necessary would have a negative impact on the council’s income.

“It’s 10 years old, and we’re trying to do a capital campaign right now to get a new one,” said Schotz. “But parts are few and far between. We’ll keep that sign as long as we can, but when we have to review it, if this ordinance is passed, it seems we wouldn’t be able to have that type of sign.

“Not only does it help us with what we do, we use it for ads and PR. We are a nonprofit, and that’s one way we do raise some money to keep our program going and keep community events happening in our building.”

McGuire said the restrictions the Community Development department used regarding flashing and scrolling signs were the same required by the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

“Whether the state chooses to enforce it along state highways is up to them, but we chose those same standards,” he said.

On the topic of sign posts and signs that are in disrepair, McGuire said the motivation was to minimize blight in the community.

“The same as with weeds and junk and things like that, we’re just trying to make sure the community looks nice,” he said. “We have a lot of signs that just have the frame and even some with some broken plastic still in it, and it just doesn’t look good as you’re driving down the road.

“The posts, sure, they add value; however, we have new businesses that have moved in and still don’t use those sign posts, and that’s why we’re trying to address that.”

McGuire also stated the requirements regarding engineered drawings for proposed signs and the use of electricians for signs involving power are already required as part of the city’s building code.

“We just reemphasized it in the sign code,” he said. “If somebody’s going to be remodeling a place, they have to go by the building code. And no, I don’t understand it – I don’t understand the traffic code, water, sewer, but we have staff that can explain it.”

Local architect Jess Holmes said that as someone who relies on guidelines when designing a building, he appreciates the city’s effort to make signage regulations more defined.

“As an architect, we always look for cities to have some sort of ordinance in place that we can look to to help us with our design – what signage should look like in a community, how it gets applied to the business,” said Holmes. “I think you’re to be commended for doing what you’ve done. I’ve read this ordinance, and I see nothing onerous in it.”

Following public comment, Councilors Kent Bratcher and Rogers told the council they’d received more calls and visits from constituents in recent weeks regarding the sign ordinance than they have in years.

“If people are talking that much about what is in this, I think we need to listen,” said Bratcher. “I don’t think we need to pick on our businesses, so to speak. I think we need to be very prudent in what we do, I think we need to be clear, and I think we need to remove some of the stuff that is convoluted, hard to read, and hard to understand.”

“I think on the billboard side of it, there’s a place for them, but I think that there could be too many on Main Street, so that part of the ordinance, I think we’re probably headed in the right direction,” said Rogers. “On the other side, I understand there’s probably a feeling that there’s a need for something as far as dilapidated signs and signs that are in disrepair.

“But I would remind you, the sign in front of Piccolino’s is in the old sign frame from when that was a gas station. If that had been taken down, we would’ve lost that. There are some things that have turned into some really neat stuff, that bring some nostalgia, and I think that gives a community a kind of flare – its own personality.”

Ultimately, Councilor Terry Hill recommended the ordinance be sent back to the Planning Committee – which consists of Hill and Councilors Raul Rodriguez and Manuel Madrid – for an attempt at making it more concise while being “very cautious of the burden that it’s placing on these small businesses and other businesses around town.”

The council approved that action 6-0.

Klein said she would encourage business owners to read over the ordinance carefully and submit their specific concerns to McGuire for use during the review. Once the committee has composed a new draft, the changes will be brought back before the council for a public hearing.