An appointed task force charged with recommending revisions to the Oro Valley commercial sign code has begun to meet.
The group, comprised of residents and members of the business community, plans to have a recommendation for the town council in September.
A crucial element to the discussion may be a recently completed survey of resident and business owner attitudes about the current code.
"I think there is more common ground than might be outwardly shown," said Zev Cywan, an Oro Valley resident and task force member.
Although the process is in its infancy, Cywan said no fault lines had emerged between representatives of the business community and the residents.
In recent months, commercial signs have become a hot issue. At an August town council meeting, numerous area businesses came to voice their concerns with the existing code. Several residents expressed their concerns that signage in Oro Valley would become too overt and intrusive.
In response, the town council decided to study a total revamp of the code.
"We're encouraged that the mayor and town council have identified the sign code as an issue and have taken steps to update the sign code," said Paul Parisi, a spokesman with the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
The recently completed survey marks the first step to completing the rewrite, and the results show areas of agreement among residents and businesses. About 350 residents and 80 business owners completed the online survey.
People in each group indicated signage was important for locating businesses and for companies to market themselves. As much as 69 percent of residents said that the sign and readability of signs was important. Similarly, nearly 70 percent of business respondents said they use signs to promote their companies.
Businesses were almost equally split on the question of sign size, with 46 percent not satisfied and 45 percent satisfied. The remaining 9 percent had no response.
As an Oro Valley resident, as well as business community advocate, Parisi said the current sign conditions pose problems for business and customer alike.
"I have personal experience as a longtime Oro Valley resident having difficulty finding businesses with the current signage," Parisi said. "The people of Oro Valley want signage to identify businesses."
He said the small stature of many business signs, as well as a policy of using copper patina color, makes it difficult to locate businesses.
He said a code revamp would benefit all interested parties.
Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce President Ramon Gaanderse said the review process has encouraged him so far.
"I was impressed that we're moving forward," said Gaanderse, who is also a member of the task force, representing the chamber.
When the issue came to the forefront last summer, Gaanderse and the chamber were advocating to allow lighting to continue through the night. That position was the subject of controversy, particularly among some residents who saw the possibility of all-night lighting as intrusive.
"I think there's been some change in thought pattern on that," Gaanderse said, adding the chamber board has not necessarily changed its view on the issue.
At a council meeting over the summer, area business leaders, led by the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce, lobbied for extended hours for lighted signs. Allowing businesses to keep their signs lighted longer into the night, many argued, would help companies struggling under the down economy.
The NPCCC also advocated for temporary relief for businesses, something the council did not offer to provide over the summer.
Parisi also advocated for lighting to continue through the night, a position he said the Tucson chamber still holds. To make that palatable to more people, Parisi said the chamber has looked at newer technologies that include adjustable brightness signs.
Parisi said the Tucson chamber had formed its own sign code task force to look at the issue regionally. The group intends to complete a review of all lighting and signage issues and share it with local governments.
Leading up to the push from area businesses for extended hours was a move by the planning and zoning department to step up enforcement. Beginning last April, zoning officials notified Oro Valley businesses that many were out of compliance with town codes. Zoning officials said many businesses were not turning off their sign lights at the required time, one hour after the business closes or by 11 p.m.
Businesses open 24 hours or banks with ATM machines are exempted from the switch-off times.
Officials notified business owners that an informal survey of sign-code compliance would be conducted later. According to the survey, as many as 80 percent of local businesses were not in compliance with the sign code.
The proposed code rewrite could become complex, with the code encompassing lighted wall signs, monument signs, real estate signs and more.
The group also plans to discuss issues with dark skies ordinances and how lighting affects the region's observatories.
"I'm personally for the K.I.S.S. principle," Cywan said, " Keep it simple."
Sign code task force membership
Citizens-at-large: Zev Cywan, James Bowman and Mary Caswell
Chamber of Commerce: Ramon Gaanderse, president of the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce
Commercial developer: Barry Kitay, Whirlygig, Mercado at Canada Hills
Business owner: Bonnie Quinn, owner of Down Home Delights
Sign company: Mark Jones, Fluoresco Lighting and Signs
Development Review Board member: Thomas Gribb
Real estate agent: Bob Semple, also an HOA board member
Task force meeting
The sign code task force meets next on Tuesday, March 23 from 3 to 5 p.m., in the Kachina Conference Room at Oro Valley Town Hall, 11000 N. La Cañada Drive.
To access a copy of the Oro Valley commercial sign survey, got to the town Web site and navigate to the planning and zoning department page.
The survey can be found under the heading "Sign Code Update."
Find a link to the survey at the following address: www.orovalleyaz.gov/Town_Government/Planning_Zoning/sign-code.htm