County to 'educate' businesses about signs

Enforcement team will visit Oakhurst Feb. 4-6

Brian WilkinsonJanuary 31, 2013 

The Madera County Planning Department is planning a road trip to Oakhurst to discuss illegal advertising signs with area businesses.

The department has received complaints about 6-foot tall 'feather' signs that are scattered throughout Oakhurst that are in violation of the Oakhurst Area Sign Ordinance.

According to Matt Treber, head of code enforcement for the planning department, he and a staff member will visit Oakhurst between Feb. 4-6 to visit businesses in violation of the ordinance by displaying the feather signs, along with large banners on their buildings and those utilizing A frame signs that sit on the ground.

"We will be visiting the businesses that are in violation of the Madera County Code Chapter 18.91 -- the Oakhurst Sign Ordinance -- to inform them of the violations and assist them in working towards compliance," Treber said. "I'm not sure how long it will take, but we have set three days aside to visit everyone."

Treber said Madera County Code Enforcement is dedicated to compliance through education. The ordinance went into effect in December 2008, after a 15-year grace period for business not in compliance with the ordinance.

"We are hopeful that we can get full compliance from those businesses," Treber said. "However, if we are unable to receive full compliance, we will issue a Notice of Violation with punitive fines up to $1,000 per violation."

More than 30 14-foot tall advertising "feather" banners in town, used to get the attention of the buying public, along with about a dozen banners and a few A frame signs are in violation of the Oakhurst Sign Ordinance.

An Internet site that sells the tall "feather" banners call them one of the most effective ways of attracting foot traffic into an establishment and will help business ride above the crowd.

In a Dec. 27 Sierra Star article, Oakhurst architect Patrice Jensen, who was on the committee that wrote the Oakhurst Sign Ordinance nearly 20 years ago, said she did not like the way the "feather" sings looked. The Oakhurst Area Chamber of commerce committee was disbanded immediately after the ordinance was approved by the Madera County Board of Supervisors.

"Even when there was only a few of these banner signs along Highway 41, I disliked the look of them," Jensen said.

At the time, Jensen said she understands that times are hard for businesses, but the fact remains that the sign ordinance prohibits any advertising cloth, plastic or paper signs meant to attract business, and also questions how much good they can do for a business.

"Do generic 14-foot tall "gas," "beer," and "cigarette" signs really increase their business? At what cost to the look of the community," Jensen said.

"As one of the citizens on the original sign ordinance committee, I wanted to report the infractions of the ordinance to the county who is responsible for enforcing the ordinance," Jensen said. "Due to the reduction of county employees, any enforcement is done on a compliant basis, so due to the economy, I though we could wait until the economy gets better."

Sidewalk free standing A-frame signs are also illegal in Oakhurst although they are continuously used to promote businesses and special events. The south-east corner of Highway 41 and Crane Valley Road (426) in front of Rite Aid is a popular area to place A-frame signs and hang banners.

The wrought iron fence surrounding the vacant property on the south-west corner of Highways 41 and 49 is often used for promotional banners and signs, even though they are not permitted.

Karen White is a member of the chamber's foundation that has overseen the cleanup efforts of the southwest corner of Highway 41 and 49 adjacent to Taco Bell.

"The purpose of the decorative fencing around the property on the corner of Highway 41 and 49 was to provide a more esthetically pleasing corner for locals and visitors to our community," White said. "Posting signs on the fencing detracts from that purpose. The majority of the signs are unreadable under the best of circumstances. Signs clearly state that no posting of signs is allowed. The cooperation of community groups and others is greatly appreciated."

"The ordinance was written in such a way that with the reduced speed at which everyone drives through town, they would be able to see signage at eye level," Jensen explained. "Now we have a confusion of banners, A-frame signs and feather signs to look through."

The Oakhurst sign Ordinance was drafted to "protect property values and the natural scenic beauty of the area." Businesses had a 15-year amortization period to replace or modify signs prior to the Dec. 3, 2008, deadline.

By August 2009, 93 of 100 businesses in Oakhurst had complied with the "height" portion of the ordinance. Since that time, all seven businesses , that were not in compliance have modified or replaced their signs to be in compliance.

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