Clayton News-Star

Clayton revamps sign rules

With the passing of a revised sign ordinance, it might be more expensive to put a new commercial sign up in Clayton, but town leaders see it as raising the bar on quality.

Gone is the town’s master sign plan, which restricted the number of colors business owners could use and often required coordination between neighboring businesses on signage in strip malls.

The town council unanimously approved the sign-code changes during its first meeting of 2017. Town planner Jay McLeod explained that the town started with a common sign plan, which allowed four color options for signage, then moved to a master sign plan in an effort to bring cohesion to signage in multi-tenant shopping centers. But the master plan proved cumbersome, both for the planning department and for businesses, with some landlords clamoring that potential tenants sometimes looked elsewhere rather than jump through Clayton’s sign hoops.

“Hopefully we’re heading towards a more responsive, simplified and effective sign code,” McLeod said of the progression that led to the changes approved by the town council.

Signs in Clayton will continue to be restricted to no more than 25 percent of a wall’s surface, but business owners now have a little more flexibility in how their signs look, especially with respect to colors. Flag poles are now specifically allowed, while rope lighting in windows is a no-no. The town’s planning department said it’s looking for consistency in quality going forward, instead of appearance.

“This is replacing the consistency of wall signs that currently the master sign plan attempted to achieve,” McLeod said, “ensuring that future multi-tenent shopping complexes either meet or exceed their neighbors in quality.”

Existing signs are exempt from the code changes, but new shopping centers will be subject to the ordinance, as will any business that wants a completely new sign.

“If it’s all cabinet signs in a center, the next person came in and put in channel letters, that would mean that as new tenants came in, they would all have to install channel letters,” McLeod said, referring to the type of sign that’s just individual letters on a facade. “So you’d raise the bar in quality and ensure that. It prevents people from bouncing back and forth between high quality and low quality.”

Councilman Bob Satterfield initially said he could not support the changes, citing the potentially large cost difference between some signs business owners might be forced to install. He said the channel letters the town likes to see can run a few thousand dollars, while more basic signs stay under $1,000.

The planning department explained that existing signs are exempt from any expensive upgrades. If a shopping center with all rectangular panel signs simply changes out a faceplate every time a new tenant moves in, they could do that forever, planning director David DeYoung said. But once a new tenant installs a higher-quality sign, any other new tenants in that complex will have to meet that standard. That could mean some businesses will be forced to pay more for a sign than they intended to. Clayton sees it as the new cost of doing business in the town and argues everyone will be better for it.

“I think the intent we’re trying to accomplish here, we’re trying to avoid signs going from less desirable in the town of Clayton to even more less desirable within the town of Clayton,” DeYoung said. “Incidentally, the highest vacancy rates are in ones that have cabinet signs.”

DeYoung stressed the code is looking to the future.

“We’re not penalizing the person who has a cabinet sign today,” DeYoung said. “We want to make sure we’re constantly upgrading to the types of signs we want to see, which upgrades our aesthetics and upgrades our property values and desirability of people to move into these centers.”