City looks at roof signs:

Are changes needed?
Bill Neil

There aren’t a lot of roof signs in downtown Grand Marais, and city planners are trying to decide if they want to keep it that way.

City Administrator Mike Roth presented city councilors a proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance during their Feb. 10 meeting. If approved by council, the new regulations would require that there be

” no space between the bottom of the sign and the top of the building; roof signs could be no higher than 5 feet above the height of the building (down from the 10 feet allowed under the current ordinance), or 10 percent of the building width, whichever is less; and the height of roof signs could not exceed 30 feet above grade. Additionally, roof signs would be allowed by conditional use permit only, as is now the case.

Roth explained that the proposed ordinance amendments were suggested by the planning commission after some concerns were expressed about a sign placed on the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op building last fall. Immediately after the sign was up, said Roth, the planning commission took up the subject as an issue.

“They looked at the regulations and tried to figure out if changes were needed. We don’t necessarily want to see a lot of that type of sign, so they worked to clarify the ordinance and tighten up the regulations.”

In fact, however, Roth said there are not a lot of requests for such signs, and the proposed ordinance does not really make any drastic or very noticeable changes. “You would still have to approve any applications, as you do now,” Roth told council.

Council and planning commission member Tim Kennedy said some commission members felt the new sign on the north side of the co-op building was “not the most aesthetically pleasing,” due mainly to the one-foot gap between the roofline and the bottom of the sign. Kennedy said some members believe the sign—because of the separation—looks more like a billboard than a sign that’s attached to the face of the building.

Planning commission members felt that “that may not be the way we want to do business in the future,” said Roth, thus the proposed standard that there be no space between the building and the sign.

Kennedy said the layout of the downtown business district is not conducive to rooftop signs, which for the most part wouldn’t be visible from the sidewalks below. “I don’t see this as a potential problem,” he said. “But some felt that because of the way it would look, there may be others who ask for a permit, and we should take a look at the ordinance.”

Mayor Sue Hakes said she likes the co-op sign, and has heard no concerns or complaints about it. She asked councilors if any of them had heard negative comments about it. Nobody had.

“I don’t know why we have to hold a public hearing, then,” the mayor said. “If the planning commission didn’t like the sign, then why did they approve the permit?”

Roth said that it was up to the planning commission, not council, to hold the public hearing, which is set for March 3. It is up to council, however, to approve or reject the amendment following two readings at their meetings. Hakes said she will be interested to hear what people have to say about the matter at the public hearing, and encouraged residents to attend.

In other business:

Council voted to adjust the pay equity score of the Librarian I position at the public library following a mandated job review by the personnel committee. Roth said the job has evolved over the last 15 years, and someday may develop into a position that could back up the director. The job score was changed from 117 to 138 (points range from 48 to 300 under the scoring system), but Roth said no pay changes need to be considered until the union contract is up, or when budget talks begin in the fall.

Roth gave a 35-minute “refresher course” about the open meeting laws, and said he plans to present the overview to all city committees, boards and commissions over the next few weeks.

Councilor and park board member Bill Lenz reported that the park board has purchased two mooring buoys in the Grand Marais harbor for about $6,000, and there are currently 20 people on the waiting list. The park staff is also considering water and sewer upgrades on a number of campsites; paving park roads; and allowing gardens and related improvements on public lands.

Kennedy reported that the planning commission is looking at how development occurs within the city on un-sewered lots. He said there are currently no standards or regulations, or even a person to inspect or enforce regulations in the city. Do we need stricter ordinances? Should we require larger lots? Should we contract with the county? It’s not a problem now, said Kennedy, but there is a lot of land in the city limits that fits into this category, and it is a potential problem.

Councilor and EDA board member Jan Sivertson reported on the financial plight of the agency, and said a meeting had been set for Feb. 15 to discuss the situation and try to come up with a long-range plan.

Hakes asked for an update on the Shoreline Motel sign. Roth said he had spoken with Mark Sandbo, general manager of the Grand Marais Hotel Company, who said he had hired a contractor to remove the remaining loose panels. However, Roth said upon inspection of the sign at the stoplight, it now appears that the lower “on the lake” sheet metal panels are coming loose and may soon be flapping dangerously in the wind. Although the sign’s owner has ordered a new sign from a Duluth company, there is still no word on when it will be delivered and installed.

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