Sign ordinance would impact hundreds of La Crosse businesses

Published On: Sep 06 2012 06:53:19 PM CDT   Updated On: Sep 06 2012 06:56:41 PM CDT

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- After more than a year of hashing out the details, the City Council will decide the future of signs in La Crosse.

The council's vote next week could affect hundreds of local businesses.

The sign ordinance was originally intended to draw up limitations on electronic signs and billboards. But along the way, the city also decided to take a closer look at tightening regulations on non-electronic signs on a business's property.

The proposed changes are not sitting well with Dave Rogers, the owner of Dave’s Guitar Shop. His sky-high, guitar-neck-shaped sign is a well-known landmark in the city.

"I can't tell you how many people that -- even non-guitar players -- that make it a point to stop here and have their picture taken in front of the sign. It's been a huge draw for us," said Rogers.

It's been in front of his store for 15 years. But 15 years from now, it might have to come down -- if the La Crosse City Council passes its proposed sign ordinance.

"It would be tragic. I mean, it's just like, they're getting a little bit out of hand that way, a little too controlling," said Rogers.

If the ordinance passes, a sign on a business’s property would be limited to a surface area of 60 square feet, with a height no taller than 14 feet.

"I don't think most businesses understand the severity of what they're trying to do with this ordinance,” said La Crosse Sign Co. sign consultant James Fuchsel. “If we decrease the size of their signs where they're not very readable to the tourist or to the traveler, it's going to mean lost dollars for them."

The ordinance would also get rid of pole signs. Only monument signs, which are on bases rather than supporting poles, would be allowed.

Sign Ordinance Review Committee member Paul Medinger said even with the restrictions, the ordinance strikes a good balance between local business interests and maintaining a safe and attractive city.

“Far and away, we had more people approach us with concerns about views from their homes, about their property values, about safety, about aesthetics. Many more people seem to want to have changes, to have reduced clutter, and that's really what brought this about," said Medinger.

But the owner of Dave's Guitar Shop said his sign isn't hurting anybody, and he thinks the ordinance would be bad for business.

"Our business could be in any city. And if the city of La Crosse isn't too friendly toward business anymore, I think more and more businesses should leave. I mean, you know, why be here?" said Rogers.

So what happens to signs that are currently up in La Crosse? They get a 15-year grace period. After that, the city can force a business to take the sign down, if they compensate the business for it.

But if a business wants to change its current sign within that 15-year period, it would have to comply with the new ordinance.

The city is inviting the public to comment on the proposed ordinance on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall during a meeting of the Committee of the Whole.

The full council will vote on the sign ordinance next Thursday, Sept. 13.