Sandwich Board Signs
Last week, the Council passed a compromise that my staff and I came up with, between small businesses and pedestrians in the city.
Months ago, Planning staff presented their proposed changes to the City's zoning ordinance dealing with signs. One of their proposals regarded A-frame sandwich board advertising signs; the rule had been that these were allowed basically anywhere, but required an obstruction permit from Public Works. Planning staff had learned that this was never followed, because Public Works does not give out obstruction permits for impermanent objects placed on sidewalks. Their proposal would have allowed these signs anywhere in town, as long as the sign doesn't block the sidewalk.
Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown, has heard quite a few complaints about these signs, especially on Nicollet Mall. I could understand her position: between sidewalk cafes, newspaper boxes, planters, light fixtures, signs and parking meters, downtown sidewalks can get pretty cluttered. She and I have also heard some very significant concerns from people in the disability community about the impact of these obstructions on blind or sight-impaired pedestrians and folks trying to navigate city sidewalks in wheelchairs.
These concerns prompted Lisa to move to ban these signs citywide. I let the small business associations in my ward know about this proposal, and they were uniformly opposed. The West Bank Business Association, Seward Civic and Commerce Association and Lake Street Council all formally opposed the idea. Their arguments are compelling: for many small businesses, sandwich board signs are the only affordable way to let passersby know that they exist, and what goods and services they offer. In addition, my office heard from some residents that they appreciate sandwich board signs, because they lend commercial corridors a vibrant, exciting vibe, which makes them more attractive to pedestrians.
When this came before the Zoning and Planning committee on July 8, my staff had done some research and prepared a compromise. It turns out there was a very helpful description of the four 'zones' of each sidewalk in the draft Pedestrian Master Plan. So first, we kept CM Goodman's proposed ban on sandwich board signs in downtown. Second, sandwich board signs outside of downtown would be allowed, but only in the "Planting/Furnishing" or "Frontage" zones, and not in the "Walk" zone.
It's my hope that this compromise, which passed the Council unanimously on July 17, will meet the needs of all users. It gives our zoning enforcement staff the flexibility to limit obstructions, while still allowing the small businesses in our neighborhoods to let people know where they are.