LONG BEACH - The writing is on the wall, or the side of the building or the awning: the city of Long Beach is one step closer to adopting an updated sign ordinance.

While the ordinance still has a ways to go, and a public hearing and comment period must be held and the city council must approve it, one more hurdle was passed on July 11, when the planning commission voted to pass on their revised recommendations on the ordinance to city council for consideration.

The ordinance has been hotly contested and debated for years, more closely followed than soccer's World Cup games by many local business owners. They have been frustrated by constrictions imposed by the current ordinance and uncertainty of the content and passage of a new ordinance.

"It's important we try to get something done," said Planning Commission Chair Dave Bross. "We've whittled on it and whittled on it."

Commissioner Diana Tehrani agreed. "We've worked and worked and worked on this," she said. "I think it would be a disservice not to move something forward."

Although there were a number of people at the meeting that included a public hearing on the ordinance, only one person, Bob Andrew of Cottage Bakery, chose to speak.

"I thought there was a lot of good ideas," he said, but also expressed concerns about sign height limitations. At one time the commission considered limiting the height of signs in the old town zone to 42 inches, but reconsidered and changed it to 8 feet. In the Old Town West zone signs can be 12 feet and in the commercial and light industrial areas signs can be 16 feet high.

There are also other changes between the old and new ordinance. Signs would no longer be required to be constructed of only wood, but "any material other than chipboard, provided that the sign shall complement the property." In other words, the city wants to avoid signs that look like they've been cobbled together, or torn apart, by a troop of wild monkeys.

"They (business owners) have a lot of options," said Tehrani.

There is also a sunset clause for non-conforming signs, or signs that don't follow the ordinance. They will have to be removed or brought in to compliance by Dec. 31, 2015. But before that time, owners can make repairs to the sign without changing its structure and as long as the cost of the maintenance does not exceed 50 percent of the cost of replacing the sign with a conforming sign or $2,500, whichever is less. As the ordinance is currently written, no changes at all, including minor repairs, can be made to non-conforming signs.

Another change would allow internally lit signs in the C1 commercial zone, but each square foot of internally lit sign would count as two feet toward the businesses' allowed total sign area. That area is calculated in a "sign matrix" and is depended on the zone the building is located in and the building size.

The commissioners, after discussing some additional details in the draft document, acknowledged the document would be a compromise, and not everyone would be satisfied with it.

"We could probably look at it for years and still find things" to fix or modify, said Commissioner Robert Dennison. But he added, "I think we've done our job." It was time for moving the document forward and getting a sign ordinance in place that could work for the town.

With an audible sigh of relief, the ordinance was forwarded to city council for consideration. Community Development Director John Schelling thanked all involved for the long hours and hard work put into rewriting the document.

A workshop will be held on July 19 at 6 p.m. and a public hearing will be held on Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. at Long Beach City Hall on Bolstad Ave. Contact city hall for additional information at 642-4421.

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