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Sign companies don't like county's moratorium

Sign company owners expressed strong displeasure with a moratorium on new outdoor signs in a meeting at the St. Croix County Government Center last Thursday evening.

The County Board's Planning and Zoning Committee held the meeting to get public input before redrafting the county's 40-year-old sign ordinance.

The six-month moratorium that began Jan. 1 was enacted by the County Board out of concern about an increase in the number of requests for new signs. Officials in the county's Planning and Zoning Department recommended it, saying the current sign ordinance is outdated.

Paul Radermacher, owner of Sign Me Up, and Matthew Rolli and Neil Boulik of AdCraft The Signmakers, questioned county planner Ellen Denzer about the need for the moratorium.

Radermacher, also a member of the Hudson City Council, asked how many of a reported 40 new signs that the county approved in 2006 were on-premises signs for new businesses.

Denzer allowed that "a majority" of the new signs are on the premises of businesses.

"So, is that alarming or is that a natural thing?" asked Radermacher, adding that St. Croix County is the fastest growing county in the state.

Rolli said the town of Hudson also is considering changes to its sign regulations, but didn't impose a moratorium on new signs while it considers amendments.

He called the county moratorium illegal and likened it to telling pizza shop owners that they can't sell pizzas for six months.

"You have taken a drastic step," Rolli told the county officials.

AdCraft and Sign Me Up are both Hudson companies.

A subcommittee of the Planning and Zoning Committee -- Lori Burri of Deer Park, Stan Krueger of Somerset and Ronald Troyer of Hudson -- heard the comments.

The subcommittee will be working with Planning and Zoning staffers to draft the new sign regulations, and then bring them to the County Board for its approval.

Dave Fodroczi, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, said the County Board will vote on the proposed ordinance amendments at its June 19 meeting.

Fodroczi said a lack of guidelines on permitting new signs under the current ordinance, Chapter 17.65, is what prompted county officials to propose redrafting the regulations.

Under the current ordinance, property owners often need to obtain a special exception from zoning rules from the Zoning Board of Adjustment before they can put up a new sign, Fodroczi said.

He said that establishing criteria on the size, height, location and types of signs allowed in different zoning districts would let the county simply issue permits for new signs.

When pressed to specify what part of the existing ordinance county officials consider troublesome, Fodroczi replied that it doesn't provide adequate direction on most issues involved in putting up a new sign.

Denzer, who led the discussion, eventually steered it to comments on what the new regulations should be.

"Tonight is not about should we have a moratorium or not have a moratorium," she said.

She said county officials were seeking opinions on the type, size and location of signs that will be permitted.

Boulik said he was concerned about statements that the county is seeking to preserve its "scenic beauty," and asked how officials defined the term.

"We haven't defined it," Denzer replied.

But she added that the Planning and Zoning Department has gotten letters from people who say they are opposed to signs that detract from the county's "rural beauty."

Rich Reinart of Lamar Outdoor Advertising, Marshfield, said the existing county sign ordinance already makes it very difficult to place a billboard in a rural area. The ordinance requires that signs larger than 100 square feet be set back at least 500 feet from residential and agricultural districts.

Jim Lund, owner of the K-Lund Angus farm near Woodville, said he should be allowed to have a sign on his own property.

Steve Willock of St. Croix National Golf Club near Somerset said he is having a hard time getting the state DOT to allow him to put a small sign on Hwy. 35/64 directing motorists to the course.

Ann Wachter of Fireworks Forever, Somerset, asked if existing signs that don't comply with the new ordinance would be allowed to stand. Denzer said they would.

The "vast majority" of existing signs will meet the new regulations, Fodroczi added.

Les Berg of North Hudson was the only citizen without a financial interest in the new regulations to comment. He said he understood businesses' need for "reasonable" on-premises signs, but that the county should be "quite restrictive" in permitting off-premises signs.

He cited Wisconsin Dells as an example of billboards destroying the beauty of an area.

Planning and Zoning Committee member Krueger offered the opinion that the village of Somerset has more billboards than are needed. "To me, it looks like it's Las Vegas," he said.

Committee member Troyer noted that the advent of electronic message signs raises new regulatory questions.

The company representatives in attendance offered to provide samples of sign ordinances adopted by other communities.

A second public information hearing on the proposed sign ordinance amendments is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 19, in the Community Room of the Government Center. Fodroczi said the Planning and Zoning Committee will have some possible regulations to present to the public at that time.

At last Thursday's meeting, the committee also took comments on a proposed new non-metallic mining ordinance.

Among other things, the proposed ordinance would require a five-foot separation between limestone mining activities and groundwater. It also would prohibit dewatering for any type of rock, gravel or sand mining.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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