Sign ordinance debate rages on
Committee makes recommendation
Thursday, September 27, 2012 7:00 PM
MARINETTE - Since 1976, the City of Marinette has had an ordinance requiring that closed businesses turn out their lights between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. Many businesses have been compliant - take Drees Electric, for example, which has its lights on a timer system so they are shut off at the appropriate time.
However, there are plenty of businesses that are not complying with the ordinance.
Yet the first question some of the noncompliant business owners may be asking themselves is, why should we comply?
While violating the ordinance comes with a hefty fine of $177 per night, city assessor Mike Minzlaff has not been enforcing the law. Several others have openly questioned whether the law is even worthwhile in the first place.
But then you have business owners like Jon Kukuk of Nestegg Marine, who have been told by the Marinette Plan Commission that in order to have their site plans for new illuminated signs approved, they must agree to shut them off between 1 and 7 a.m.
So what gives?
Well, at Thursday's Marinette Plan Commission meeting, the committee made a recommendation to the city council. But not before nearly an hour's worth of discussion replete with some dramatically different points of view.
Paul Boyce, owner of Bay Cities Insurance, offered his thoughts to the committee. His business is one of several that would not be allowed to keep its lights on under the plan commission's current proposal.
"The idea behind government is to limit it to a certain extent and make laws that are beneficial to the general public," Boyce told the committee. He added that from a safety standpoint, businesses that leave their lights on all night can help deter neighborhood crime.
"This law, in my opinion, does absolutely nothing - and there haven't been any complaints. So why even have it there? Get rid of the whole thing," he argued.
Commissioner Jon Heraly agreed with Boyce.
Heraly said he's spoken with Tim Fermanich, owner of the T&T Fermanich Mobile Convenience Store on Marinette Avenue. According to Heraly, Fermanich told him that at least one neighbor supports the businesses lights being on all night - for security reasons.
"I really think everyone should be able to do it (keep their lights on)," Heraly said.
On the flipside of that argument is commissioner Tom Crowley, who said he believes residents who live adjacent to business districts should be protected from businesses lights shining throughout the night.
"I'm just trying to look out for the interest of the homeowners in the city - they are also residents," Crowley said.
City attorney Jonathan Sbar said he's been in consultation with the Wisconsin League of Municipalities regarding the matter. And, according to Sbar, the research he's done indicates the city would be best protected from legal challenges if it were to select entire (not partial) zoning districts to fall under the law.
"I just feel, on balance, the best course for this commission and the council would be either don't change the ordinance at all, or if you're going to change it, pick the zoning districts you want to allow to have lights on all night and be uniform throughout those districts," Sbar said.
The commission ultimately voted to recommend that city council allow 24-hour lighting in three of the city's four non-residential districts.
Zoning district B-3 (local shopping), which includes Cleveland Avenue, portions of Marinette Avenue, Hall Avenue, and Menekaunee would still be subject to the lighting ordinance under the current recommendation.
The commission did promise to further consider rezoning all of Marinette Avenue to B-4 (Highway), which would exempt it from the ordinance.
Commissioners Crowley, Nancy Gustafson, Mayor Denise Ruleau and city engineer Brian Miller voted in favor of the recommendation. While Heraly and the commission's city council representative Martha Karban voted against it.
After the meeting, Heraly and Karban elaborated on their dissenting votes.
"If they're going to do it, do it for everybody, except the residential areas," Heraly said. "I can't see discriminating against Curry's and Illusions Unlimited - and there are about three of them on Cleveland (Avenue)."
"What's Curry's going to do? What's the credit union going to do? There's the beauty parlor on the corner, what are they going to do?" Heraly asked. "I just don't believe in piecework - if you're going to make a recommendation to them, do the whole thing," he argued.
Karban said she was uncomfortable with the decision to recommend an ordinance that does not protect a key shopping district. "I feel for those businesses," she said, adding "there haven't been complaints, and I just think we have a lot more to look at before we pass an ordinance just to pass one.
"I'm just not going to vote in favor of an ordinance that I'm not sure I agree with just to see what a different committee is going to do with it," Karban said, adding "I'm glad that it is going to city council though, because I think there does need to be further discussion on it."
As it stands, there will be a public hearing on the matter prior to November's city council meeting, at which time the council may either accept the recommendation, reject the recommendation, alter it or send it back to the plan commission for additional consideration.