The city of Soldotna is working on updating its sign code. It has been since the beginning of the year, and there’s still a lot to flesh out before anything resembling an ordinance goes to the city council. I caught up with city planner John Czarnezki to see where things stand now, and what’s coming up.
John Czarnezki: It’s mainly an effort to comprehensively rewrite the sign code, working with the planning commission through a number of work sessions and also working with business owners and the public and anyone else who has an interest. And we’ve covered a number of different topics; everything from the general standards for heights and setbacks to more specific topics like electronic signs, digital signs and most recently, temporary and portable signs. We continue to work through the big issues with regards to signs through the work session format and invite the public to participate. We’re drafting code as we go along and eventually we’ll try to put together the complete package for the planning commission and the council to review maybe in another four to six months.
Shaylon Cochran: There’s a lot of moving parts with this. You think about taking a drive around town and all the different signs, and there’s a lot to reckon with.
JC: “There are a lot of moving parts. In fact, I had a discussion today with a business owner and they asked about the banners on the street poles and those types of signs that are government-related are exempt. They asked about garage sale signs and election signs and there’s specific standards for those types of signs and there’s different standards for non-conforming signs. There is a lot to consider and we’re working closely with businesses and the commission and the public to try to come up with standards that work for them, but also work for the community. We understand this balance we have to achieve for effective advertising while also protecting and enhancing our image as a community.
SC: Are there other places in the state you can look to to see what's worked, what hasn't, what's helped businesses or other groups without being a distraction or taking away from sort of what you want to present to people, like right now, who may be coming into town for the first time?
JC: There are examples from all over the country and there are organizations that have put together model sign ordinances. Ultimately, we’re not taking an approach where we’re pulling from one or two models or communities. Our approach is to really understand the issue here locally and identify what it is we’re after, what our goals are for that issue. And then, look at those models and those other communities and see how they incorporated something similar. But it’s our own issues and concerns and goals that are driving the process as far as what it’s going to look like when it’s done. We do have a lot of research and information from other places but it’s not entirely helpful just because every community is so different. And we’re looking at our issues individually and trying to adopt codes that work for us. The city staff is essentially driving the process based on some of the issues and concerns we’ve heard throughout the last five years, so it does include things like temporary signs or portable signs and the new digital signs. And we’ll be dealing, I’m sure, with non-conforming signs and how to treat signs that have been in place prior to adoption of the code. And if there’s other things that come up that people want to talk about, we do it. It’s a very open format in our meetings and the commission is very interested in hearing what the public and what businesses have to say and what’s working and what’s not and so far they’ve been very productive meetings and hopefully that will contine.
Those meetings take place before regularly scheduled planning and zoning commission meetings, and the next one is scheduled for August 2nd.