Save Tucson’s Sign Code: Will tinkering bring back the ugliest street in US?by Pamela Powers Hannley on Jun. 14, 2011, under Arizona, Bob Walkup, City Council, downtown, Historic architecture, Karin Ulich, Politics, Regina Romero, Richard Fimbres, Steve Kozachik, Tucson
Cluttered with so many signs that you can hardly see the street, Speedway Blvd. was dubbed the ugliest street in American by Life Magazine in 1970.
Being known as “ugly” is not a good designation for a town that lives on tourism. In the 1980s, Tucsonans passed landmark sign code legislation that has gradually whittled away billboards and reduced the number and scale of signs.
Tucson Sign Code works to beautify our city, and that is why it is under attack by the sign industry and local businesses. The question is: Will the Tucson City Council have the backbone to protect it? Judging by recent “business friendly” rulings by the City Council that have weakened the Sign Code, don’t hold your breath. (In December 2010, they voted unanimously to allow more signs and larger signs along Tucson’s scenic corridors. In March 2011, they voted to allow the Jewish Community Center to erect a billboard on the side of their building, which is in Tucson’s scenic corridor.)
The latest Sign Code battle is being fought on two fronts. Business interests are pressuring the City Council to eliminate the Sign Code Appeals and Advisory Board (SCAAB), the citizens’ review board that hears appeals when businesses want a variance to the sign code, and to pass a historic sign amendment to the Sign Code, which goes far beyond saying the funky neon signs along Miracle Mile.
Businesses are attacking the SCAAB because the SCAAB doesn’t roll over and do everything they want. From Sign Code activist Mark Mayer…
A proposal is now pending before Mayor and Council to eliminate the SCAAB and assign its functions to the Board of Adjustment. This proposal, which is stealthily labeled “Improvement in Sign Code Administration”, is part of the City Manager’s Strategic Work Plan that you will be asked to vote on July 6. The proposal is the apparent result of the repeated sign industry failures to stack SCAAB with its members and allies and it is now setting its sights on the Board of Adjustment as an alternative forum (with “recommended” appointments to undoubtedly follow). Any claims that this move is due to budgetary issues ring hollow, as there are no proposals to eliminate the larger, more expensive, and sign industry-dominated Citizen Sign Code Committee (CSCC) and assign its functions to the Planning Commission. The SCAAB proposal needs to be rejected, at least until such time sign regulations are appropriately incorporated into the Land Use Code and the CSCC issues noted above are fully addressed.
The proposed historic sign change sounds good on the surface, but it goes too far. Again, from Mayer…
An ordinance to ostensibly protect historic signs is now before the City Council in Study Session on June 14 [that's today!] and in public hearing on June 28. The draft ordinance has mushroomed well beyond what was originally conceived and would now open the door to the largest and tallest of signs being relocated or resurrected on properties where they never existed before and without any notification to surrounding property owners, without any public hearing, and without a legislative decision being made by Mayor and Council. Instead, the decision would be made by a single administrative official, which, if not without statutory authority, is certainly bad public policy. It is no wonder that the sign industry and its proxy, the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, are heartily supporting this ordinance. The Mayor and Council need to narrow the scope of the ordinance down to its original focus, which was to determine the relatively limited number of older signs that are widely embraced by the community for their historic value and focus on their preservation. [Emphasis added. ]
As I said at the beginning of this article, Being known as “ugly” is not a good designation for a town that lives on tourism. If the Mayor and Council truly want to be business friendly, they should keep the SCAAB and ask that the focus of the historic sign amendment be narrowed to its original intent.
Tell the City Council what you think. Here’s a link to their contact information, or better yet, come to the meetings and speak in favor of keeping Tucson off the worst-dressed list.