Walgreen's, Brown's Furniture, CVS Pharmacy and Don's Seafood Hut now all broadcast their weekly bargains on flashing digital signs. Other business signs, like the Whataburger sign on North University Avenue, extend more than 100 feet high.
Councilman Bruce Conque says that signs are increasingly becoming bigger and being used more as marketing tools, making drives down commercial districts like Johnston Street less pleasant. "It's a matter of visual pollution," he says.
Conque is one of several city officials pushing for more restrictive regulations on Lafayette business signs ' an issue which has raised vocal opposition from several retailers and sign manufacturers. On Tuesday, Sept. 25, the Lafayette City-Parish Council takes up a new sign ordinance ' now more than two years in the making ' which would impose much tighter restrictions on the signs businesses are allowed to display. The ordinance requires most commercially zoned businesses within the city to construct more visually appealing monument-style signs no taller than 10 feet. Conque says the ordinance would create a look that is less "visually obnoxious."
"The signs will be more aesthetically pleasing, have some uniformity and be at eye-level to drivers," he says. The ordinance also cracks down on the proliferation of digital billboards, imposing an 8-second time limit on their messages and prohibiting the use of animated images. It is modeled after ordinances adopted in communities including Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; Missouri City, Mo. and Mandeville.
As it's currently written, the ordinance requires an amortization period of seven years for all businesses to come into compliance. The provision, more than any, appears to be a sticking point for several businesses. Brother Abdalla, who owns Brother's on the Boulevard clothing store and rents out space to other retailers in The Boulevard shopping center, says city government should not force any business to tear down their existing signs.
"I'm all for the beautification of Lafayette, including signage," Abdalla says. However, he says many businesses don't have the budget to tear down their existing signs and build new ones. Abdalla says he spent more than $30,000 on his On the Boulevard shopping center sign, which he notes is a well-designed monument sign that matches his shopping center. The sign would be illegal under the new ordinance because it is greater than 10 feet tall. He says digital signs like the one up at Don's Seafood Hut, also illegal under the new ordinance, cost approximately $100,000.
"I put up my sign for life," he says. "I can't afford to put up another sign like that. I'm not tearing my sign down. I can't afford to do it. You can't change the rules in the middle of the game."
These concerns have resonated with City-Parish President Joey Durel, a former retailer. (Durel used to own Durel's Pet Shop as well as a local Arby's franchise.) At a meeting last week with concerned business owners, Durel told Abdalla and others that he would veto any sign ordinance that included an amortization clause. "I was relieved to hear that," Abdalla says. "I think it sends a good message. Joey's not going to put that cost on the business owners of Lafayette." Durel did not return a call for comment. Aside from amortization requirement, Abdalla says he supports the ordinance
Because of the intense opposition, council members pushing the ordinance now say they plan to amend it during the Sept. 25 meeting to do away with amortization, effectively grandfathering in all existing signs. Only newly constructed business signs would be required to abide by the new monument signage requirements.
Conque says that while he favors amortization, it's been a negotiating point throughout the process. "I always thought that eventually it could be a deal breaker," he says.
Councilman Rob Stevenson expressed more regret that amortization will likely be abandoned. "I'm not thrilled about it," he says. "But if it's going to be defeated otherwise then I guess we have no choice. Personally, I think that's part of the problem with politics down here ' you can't get anything done because a few vocal people seem to have enough influence to change the outcome of things and that's a shame."
Both Conque and Stevenson point out that the ordinance has several provisions that hopefully will speed up signage transformation. The ordinance would require any sign that is replaced or newly constructed in the city to abide by the new regulations and stipulates that businesses be required to construct new signs in the event that more than 35 percent of their existing sign is damaged. The ordinance also prevents any new businesses from coming into a building and modifying any existing pole signage on the property.
"Signs don't last forever," Stevenson says. "So, they're going to be replaced. It's just going to take longer than I would have liked. It's a start."
"I'm hoping," he adds, "that when people who are grandfathered in see how attractive [monument signs] are and how much people like them better, even without the amortization, they will change their signs eventually of their own accord. If somebody has a really beautiful monument sign with flowers around it, nobody's going to want a sign on top of an old piece of drilling pipe next to it; it's going to look horrible."
The sign ordinance now appears to have the support of a slim majority of the council. But it will still face opposition. Dewey Boudreaux, president of Universal Sign Co., stands to profit from the new sign regulations, but still believes it's a bad ordinance because it is too restrictive. He supports allowing signs to a height of 90 feet. "You've got to draw the line somewhere," he says.
He also contends that the city has consistently failed in enforcing its existing sign regulations. "All the good, honest people are going to suffer because they follow the rules," he says. "Everybody else is not because they're going to get away with [illegal signs]."
Conque says that enforcement is a concern with the new ordinance. The Planning, Zoning and Codes department would be required to monitor for illegal signs. The Board of Zoning Adjustments ' a five-member body appointed by the city-parish president and council ' has the ability to grant variances to any of the signage restrictions. BOZA's rulings can only be appealed in court and not to the city-parish council.
Councilman Chris Williams, who first directed the zoning department to begin working on the new sign ordinance over two years ago, believes the majority of the ordinance's issues have been resolved.
"It is a hot issue," he says, "because whenever you get in people's pocketbooks, particularly government, it brings up a lot of concerns. But I hope at the end of the day when this is on the council table, we would have come to an agreeable medium in terms of what's good for the city and the city's landscape but not punitive to businesses."
The circumstances surrounding the death last March while in the backseat of a sheriff’s cruiser of Victor White III, long a source of dispute by White’s family, have earned an investigation by federal officials.
With six of the LPSB’s nine members poised for Pat Cooper’s termination, a request was filed Tuesday for a fast-tracked hearing on the federal lawsuit calling for the disqualification of two board members from voting on the matter due to bias.
Louisiana's Republican Party has filed a complaint against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu with the Senate's ethics committee about her use of private chartered planes.
An attorney signs up to run against LPSB's Mark Cockerham, and within a week a lawsuit is filed by a former LPSS employee in an attempt to disqualify him. Coincidence?
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."