The Times West Virginian

December 5, 2012

Revised sign ordinance is a good step for Fairmont

Times West Virginian

— “We need to do everything we can to encourage businesses to come to Fairmont and encour­age businesses that are already here to stay here.”

That was the opinion offered by Fairmont councilman Dan Weber during a recent work session the city held with members of the Fairmont Planning Commission to discuss changes to be made to a proposed sign ordinance before it becomes adopted by city council.

It’s an opinion we certainly agree with.

After all, the purpose of the ordinance is simple: lessen regulations that are already in place.

But the lasting effects of the ordinance? Those are virtually countless.

Work on the ordinance began about 14 months ago. Major updates to the existing regulations include refinement of the regulations to make them easier to understand, updates to reflect new zoning districts, the addition of allowable electronic message (dynamic) signs and to move regulations from the Building and Housing Code into the Zoning Code to justify vari­ance requests.

But the main issue, and one that kept the ordinance from being passed in June, centers around the regulations related to dynamic signs.

As it stands now, no two signs that contain elec­tronic messages can be located within 1,500 feet of each other as measured by a straight line. As William Oliver, president of the Fairmont Planning Commission, explained, “Fifteen hundred feet is basi­cally five city blocks. That means you’d be allowed to have nine signs from where Muriale’s is located to Bellview.”

That’s why some members of city council and the planning commission view the restriction as being anti-business, and they want it removed from the ordinance.

“One of the common things you hear is that businesses want to go to White Hall or Clarksburg or Morgantown, and it’s not because of taxes or any­thing like that. It’s overregulation,” said Barry Bledsoe, who is the manager of the Three Rivers Iron Metal Recycling Center and attended the work session. “It sounds to me like if a business wants to come in and you say, ‘Well, you can come in but you can’t advertise yourself the way you want to,’ they’re going to say, ‘Well, OK, I can do that in Morgantown, so I might as well just go there.’”

Of course, the fact that the ordinance would allow­ the use of dynamic signs within the city at all is a step up from previous regulations, and city officials hope that introduc­ing the dynamic signs in a con­servative way will allow them to see how the signs fare and what community and business response is like.

There are other concerns with the ordinance as well, including public safety due to the fact that elec­tronic signs can be a distraction to motorists, and the proposed districts in which the dynamic signs are to be allowed.

We hope city officials can agree on a new version of the ordinance and use it to attract more businesses to Fairmont, not drive them away. After all, having more businesses in the city would open up numerous opportunities for people in the area.

Just look at White Hall — the town is bustling with activity, drawing people away from Fairmont and the businesses that are already in the city. It should be no surprise that those people are spending money, helping drive up the revenue in that town even more.

It’s time for Fairmont to get a slice of the pie, too, and passing a sign ordinance with fewer restrictions is a step in the right direction.