2017-03-16 / News

Commission Working on Master Plan, Sign Ordinance

All Welcome at Walk To Consider Downtown Signs in St. Ignace Saturday
By Erich T. Doerr

The St. Ignace Planning Commission met Tuesday, March 7, with development of a new sign ordinance and an updated city master plan as its top priorities. The commission is planning community outreach to gain input for its master plan work.

The finished plan will include statistics on the racial makeup of the population. Mayor Connie Litzner said this data would be good for the city to have. Statistics on the size of the area’s Native American population can be used to help attract grants for community projects.

The commission is also working on maps that will be included in the master plan. They will cover a number of topics, such as zoning, with the new plan having more maps than the old one. The commission was advised by Eric Wedesky of Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning not to include maps of the city’s water and sewer system in the plan, as that information can be used by those seeking to carry out illegal dumping. The commission will limit infrastructure-themed maps to a general map of where city water service is available. Commissioner Mike Lilliquist suggested adding a map depicting one-day driving distance from St. Ignace. Historical sites and local soil depths are other maps under consideration.

The planning commission is preparing community surveys to give guidance to the plan. The group hopes to pass them out at the upcoming job fair, using a survey focused on employment, and home show, with a survey that may focus on land use. Planning Commission Chair Betsy Dayrell-Hart, Mayor Litzner, and Mr. Lilliquist will staff a booth at the Tuesday, April 11, job fair and will be joined by Commissioner Rick Perry at the Friday, April 7, and Saturday, April 8, home show. Additional surveys could also be placed at the St. Ignace Public Library.

The surveys, Mr. Perry said, could be a good chance to gather input into what residents want done with the city’s waterfront. He suggested a question be added to the surveys about repurposing any existing but unoccupied structures located there into restaurants or businesses with connections to the water, like dive shops.

“There is an opportunity to get more people to the waterfront,” Mr. Perry said.

Commission members discussed local organizations they could meet with to gain additional input for the master plan, hopefully before the busy tourist season begins in May. Mr. Perry plans to meet with at the St. Ignace Lions Club while Dr. Dayrell-Hart is planning a visit to the Sault Tribe Elder Center. The council is also planning a stakeholders meeting on the topic later this spring after most of the area’s summer residents return to gain input from them.

The current billboard policy, said Dr. Dayrell-Hart, mostly focuses only on off-premises signs like those used by the Mackinac Island ferry companies. The commission discussed an idea to have any change in ownership of these large signs require the new owner to acquire a new permit for the sign, and the city council has already agreed such a policy could be a good idea. Input from the commission’s prior work session with local ferry lines and business owners revealed many believe the billboards are important to their businesses.

Dr. Dayrell-Hart said the commission should look into what people think of the billboards, adding that it would be out of line for the commission to ask businesses to get rid of them. Most of the billboards are in compliance with the city’s current policies, although there are some exceptions, including a large sign in the city’s R1 residentially zoned area. It was noted that the large signs for the ferry companies are a unique feature for St. Ignace, and Mrs. Litzner said the town would look very different without them.

Mr. Perry said that billboards are usually more common alongside highways for traffic that travels at higher speeds, and he wondered if the signs could unintentionally suggest that people can drive faster in downtown St. Ignace. Dr. Dayrell- Hart added that perhaps the city could tie its restrictions on signage together with its speed limits, adding that it is possible some of the signage downtown could be smaller but still effective.

Dr. Dayrell-Hart said it that it would be a mistake if the sign ordinance were tailored with restrictions directed toward any one specific sign in particular. The sign ordinance may not cover the small tent and sandwich-type signs placed in front of businesses, as the Downtown Development Authority informed the commission another ordinance already regulates them. Freestanding signs are common for business that sit back a bit from the road and will be regulated by this policy.

The commission will have a walk through downtown St. Ignace Saturday, March 18, at 10 a.m. to examine the existing signage. The public is welcome to join the group on its walk. Dr. Dayrell-Hart suggested the commission could find signs that look appropriate and measure them to determine possible limits to be written into the ordinance. The DDA receives input into policies affecting the city’s downtown area and Dr. Dayrell-Hart will ask them for it during this project.

Mrs. Litzner hopes the back side of the city’s downtown area will see more traffic in the coming years and hopes the sign ordinance can help businesses as they make plans to bring that goal to fruition. The commission discussed its options for restricting the amount of signage allowed to each business, with the tentative amount under consideration allowing for signage on the front and rear of a building including one projecting sign and one or more wall signs that total less than 25% of the aggregate area available on the ground floor of the structure. The commission has yet to make a decision on how much signage it should suggest allowing for the sides of a business building. Signs on the rear of a building will likely not be allowed to extend beyond a single story. Limits would not be based on a building as a whole, as several house more than one business. Projecting signs will likely need be placed at least 10 feet above the walkway so people will be able to walk underneath them, a similar policy to that the city uses for awnings.

Dr. Dayrell-Hart asked the members of the commission about their continuing education efforts, noting they could relay along some of that information to the city council if their new knowledge is relevant to planning work.

Mrs. Litzner and Dr. Dayrell- Hart have already talked with city building inspector Brian Olsen about stepping up enforcement of city ordinances. City Manager Les Therrian will also talk with him about his duties, to finalize what Mr. Olsen would enforce and what will need to be done by others. The city’s tentative plan for enforcing its new rental housing ordinance calls for a landlord to come in and get an application, then use it to register their property and agree to an inspection.

Commissioner Don Kallstrom resigned from the planning commission Monday, March 6, as he is moving away from the St. Ignace area. Mayor Litzner will appoint his replacement.

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