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Councilors agree to hear sign-change suggestions

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Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2012 12:00 am

The Rio Rancho Governing Body has passed preliminary changes to the sign ordinance, with some councilors intending to suggest further revisions when the amendments come up for final approval.

At their meeting Wednesday at City Hall, governing body members voted 4-2 to approve the first reading of changes suggested by Councilor Chuck Wilkins. The amended ordinance must pass a second reading to take effect.

Wilkins and councilors Lonnie Clayton, Tim Crum and Mark Scott voted for the changes, while councilors Tamara Gutierrez and Patricia Thomas voted against them.

The current sign ordinance passed in August 2011 after a Sign Ordinance Advisory Task Force reviewed the previous sign ordinance. The governing body amended the current ordinance in January.

After hearing complaints from constituents, Wilkins proposed 20 changes to the ordinance largely aimed at simplifying the rules and removing what he called micromanagement. He also suggested removing a passage that exempts the city from certain rules for off-premises signs.

The city Planning and Zoning Board recommended approval of the changes with two amendments of their own. Governing body members didn’t include the board’s recommended revisions.

At the meeting Wednesday, Rio Rancho Signs owner Alan Varner said Wilkins’s proposed amendment to allow signs closer than one mile away from directional subdivision kiosk signs would make his contract with the city useless. He was awarded a contract with the city to set up those signs at specific intersections.

Aside from allowing sign clutter at the intersections, Varner said, the amendment could damage his business there to no return.

Wilkins later said the limit on signs at intersections was almost illegal.

“We’re controlling these corners; you can’t put another sign there without going through the city,” he said. “That’s a monopoly.”

Acting City Attorney Ken Tager said he didn’t think the city had a monopoly. Zoning Manager Dolores Wood said businesses featured on the kiosk couldn’t put up another sign less than a mile away, but businesses not featured on the kiosk could.

Varner also disagreed with amendments to the mobile sign section that removed allowances for the driver towing a mobile sign to stop for two 15-minute breaks and an hour for lunch. Under the changes, the sign would have to keep moving unless it was parked where it was stored.

Varner said he had existing contracts he wouldn’t be able to fulfill if the amendment passed, which could lead to him being sued. A driver couldn’t even stop for a bathroom break without being ticketed, he said.

Instead, Varner proposed placing limits on static sign trucks.

Other members of the sign task force also supported Varner and the advertising value of mobile signs.

Gutierrez said federal law required Varner to provide breaks for his employees and she wouldn’t want to target one business and make it close.

Crum said drivers could switch out for breaks.

“You’re not forcing anyone to violate a labor law in that regard,” he said.

Wilkins said he spoke with police department representatives and understood sign drivers wouldn’t be ticketed for five- or 10-minute bathroom breaks. They could also take the sign back to its storage area for lunch, he said.

Wilkins said he’d asked Varner for suggestions on how to address his mobile signs but had received only complaints. He again offered to work with Varner and present Varner’s suggestions at the next meeting.

On another area of the issue, Crum moved to amend Wilkins’s amendments by allowing 75 campaign signs for citywide candidates or ballot issues, as opposed to Wilkins’s suggestion of 50.

Clayton wanted the number to be 100 signs. He said candidates need signs for publicity, and it would make money for the city because candidates had to pay $1 for a sticker for each sign.

Crum’s amendment failed, with Mayor Tom Swisstack breaking a tie vote. Gutierrez, Thomas and Clayton voted against the 75-sign limit, while Scott, Crum and Wilkins voted for it.

At another point, Thomas said the sign task force put a lot of time and effort into the ordinance, and now a councilor wanted to change it without input. She said the governing body should at least listen to staff on the eight items they recommended to stay the same.

Wilkins said his amendments closely resembled task force recommendations.

Crum said he was OK with the revisions in general. He said he’d support them for the first reading and interested parties could handle questions before the second reading.

Swisstack said the changes were restrictive to certain groups and it was foolish to pass them even on the first reading.

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