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Milton approves off-site advertising

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Neil Johnson
May 8, 2013

— The Milton City Council has opened the doors for the future of business advertising in the face of the pending Highway 26 bypass.

Tuesday, the council quietly but unanimously passed changes to the city's sign ordinances that will allow Milton businesses to erect off-site commercial signage along the city's major thoroughfares, including Janesville Street, the Highway 59 corridor and the future Highway 26 bypass, which is slated for completion this fall.

Prior to the council's move Tuesday, city ordinances prevented businesses from putting up commercial signs anywhere but on their own business property. The change relaxes that rule but still does not allow placement of permanent business signs in residential areas, officials said.

City officials Tuesday said the ordinance change would allow businesses to advertise themselves after the bypass funnels the main influx of traffic—up to 16,000 vehicles a day—1.5 miles east around the city, making Milton businesses less visible to passersby.

"The idea is businesses located more within the heart of Milton could advertise closer to the (Highway 26) bypass or on the bypass," said Mayor Brett Frazier.

Frazier said the sign ordinance change will create an application and review process for each request by a business for off-site signage. The process would give the city's plan commission oversight over certain aspects of planning signage, including:

-- Location and placement of signs to make sure signs do not pose visual hazards for motorists.

-- Overall height, size and content of signs.

-- Whether and where certain lighted marquee-style signs or neon-lit signs would be allowed.

-- The number of signs along major thoroughfares.

Under the ordinance change, the plan commission would recommend the council approve or deny sign applications before they reach the council floor.

Frazier said the ordinance change brings up a potentially thorny issue—the city allowing electronic marquee signs on its main streets. He said that part of the ordinance give him pause.

"I suppose that's something that's coming with the times. It's something I had a little bit more reservations with. We want to keep the city looking nice and looking like a traditional hometown, but also balancing that with economic concerns of our business owners," Frazier said.

Alderman David Adams voiced concerns in the past over the issue of off-site signage in Milton. When the Milton Chamber of Commerce's ad hoc sign committee forwarded a plan on off-site signage to a city economic development committee earlier this year, Adams cautioned officials on the committee.

Still, Adams made a motion to approve the ordinance changes Tuesday.

Adams indicated he had worries that off-site signage could become tacky or overbearing in Milton.

He noted that some commercial main roads in the area, such as Milton Avenue in Janesville, are flush with brightly lit signs.

"My initial concerns earlier were based on sign changes businesses were asking for over on the Milton Junction (west) side of the city. It was whether we'd end up with flashing lights and a lot of neon," Adams said. "I wanted it done tastefully. I wanted common sense to be used."

Plan commission meetings in recent months have "relaxed his fears," as the commission has approved reasonable plans for business signs, Adams said.

"I think the plan commission has got a pretty good handle. The decisions they've made, I feel I'm comfortable with what they're doing," Adams said.



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