City councilor proposes sign changes to help Old Town businesses

The city doesn’t want to overrun a historic part of the city with tacky signs, but store owners in Old Town say they need more signs to bring in more business.

A city councilor has a plan to try to help both sides.

“We really want to keep the integrity of Old Town but also make our businesses visually appealing and draw people,” Catherine Cache owner Catherine Webster said.

She explained that many businesses in the historic area hurting because city zoning rules limit the types and number of signs allowed outside and on their stores.

“Unless we have some sort of visual to pull people down to the end of our blocks, it’s very, very difficult,” she said.

“There are not enough (signs) for us. It is just two signs permitted for the businesses,” La Choca Owner Carmen Ortiz added. “The signs are not very big and my space is very small.”

Local stores like Plaza Gifts have posted electronic “open” signs but say they’re not allowed to turn them on.

Last year, the city hosted an online poll by way of a so-called virtual task force to evaluate how the sign regulations impact these businesses.

“The regulations were vague and people were being randomly fined inconsistently,” Webster said.

“It was pretty clear that people wanted more signage and bigger signage,” City Councilor Isaac Benton added.

Last summer, Benton helped stop the city from fining businesses that put out more signs and displays.

He’s now sponsoring an ordinance to increase the number of signs per business from two to three; and allow sandwich boards, small light-up signs like “open” signs in doors or windows, outdoor demonstrations and displays.

“The sign limitations are very strict in Old Town and this is a relatively small increase in terms of that and I don’t think it’s going to adversely affect the quality and the feel of Old Town,” Benton stated.

Regardless of how small the changes, not everyone backs the idea.

“I am concerned,” Erica Moya of Albuquerque said. “You wouldn’t want a bunch of tacky billboards everywhere, you know?”

The city says it will continue to let businesses put out sandwich boards or extra signs without fining them until some new rules are ironed out.

The Landmarks Commission and Environmental Planning Commission still need to review the ordinance before city council votes on it. If it passes, it would go into effect on Jan. 31, 2020 or when the 2019 IDO Annual Update happens, whichever comes first.

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