Soglin wants crackdown on illegal business signs Downtown

2012-06-22T06:45:00Z 2012-06-25T20:28:07Z Soglin wants crackdown on illegal business signs DowntownDEAN MOSIMAN | Wisconsin State Journal | dmosiman@madison.com | 608-252-6141 madison.com

Mayor Paul Soglin believes illegal business signs are spoiling Downtown and parts of the city and intends to crack down with enforcement and perhaps new rules.

"There are areas of the city ranging from State Street to the area around East Washington Avenue and Johnson Street to Mineral Point Road rife with violations," Soglin said. "Frankly, parts of the city look like crap."

Madison ordinance prevents sandwich board-style signs from blocking pedestrian sidewalk access, signs taking up more than 20 percent of window space, and permanent real estate signs, among others. Soglin said violations of those provision are his biggest concern.

Soglin's move is creating a dust up with the business community, which says signs are vital, the city's current complaint-based enforcement policy works fine, and that Soglin is manufacturing a problem.

Soglin, who has been meeting with business leaders in recent weeks, agreed to delay enforcement to allow for education about the sign code and for parties to explore options.

"I'm getting tremendous push back from certain business groups," he said. "I've been willing to back off a month or two. I'd like to see voluntary compliance."

The mayor said education will be followed by enforcement followed by a look at the signage landscape to determine the need for ordinance changes.

Downtown and business leaders agree some signs are poorly made, too big or put in wrong spots, such as sandwich boards in the middle of sidewalks. But most signs are reasonable even if they technically violate the sign code and do no harm while helping people learn about and find businesses, they said. Some even contribute to the aesthetic of places like State Street, they add.

"Signs are important to all businesses," said Delora Newton, executive vice president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. "The mayor is doing some positive things to improve the business climate in Madison, but changing the city's enforcement policy at this time sends a contrary message."

Sachi Komai, co-owner of Anthology, 218 State St. and president of the Greater State Street Business Association, said, "Many business owners don't realize sign boards are illegal. They see their neighbors have them. Businesses have had them for years and never got a fine."

Nancy Jensen, director of the Apartment Association of south-central Wisconsin, said some landlords or management companies wrongly leave signs up after units have been rented, but that many properly advertise vacancies or provide information.

Komai, Jense and others said the city should first educate business owners if it wants to enforce the sign ordinance.

The debate isn't new. In 2000, businesses near State Street successfully challenged the city's sandwich board rules in municipal court, which led to an easing of enforcement. In 2009, the city updated its sign code in an effort to balance creativity, fast-changing technology and visual pollution.

Currently, the city responds to complaints, cracks down on egregious cases, and makes occasionally sweeps along thoroughfares like East Washington Avenue or Stoughton Road, zoning administrator Matt Tucker said.

The city has had 232 cases — complaints, field observations and referrals — so far this year, and had 448 in 2011, Tucker said.

Ald Mike Verveer, 4th District, said Soglin and business leaders have valid points. "I do think signage has gotten out of control in many respects," he said. "I don't share the mayor's zeal for zero tolerance. I hope we can find a happy medium."

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(33) Comments

  1. Joseph_B_Starck
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    Joseph_B_Starck - June 23, 2012 12:33 pm
    Madison could use a sign committee. No, am not roller-coasting mee eyes laddies, on this issue, see, for its worth broadening, i.e., maybe holographic commerce is a-ready to sell services? Food, drink, clothed manikins; none would be in the way; pedestrians would walk through them! Can't do that in 3D. A holographic manikin would appear at storefront: "Tango?"
  2. buxbomb
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    buxbomb - June 22, 2012 5:07 pm
    First the Edgewater, next it was Taxi's on State St and now the sandwich board business signs in town. It's official, Premier Soglin has declared war on private enterprise.
  3. midwestguy
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    midwestguy - June 22, 2012 3:36 pm
    The majority of signs do not interfere with pedestrian traffic, Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, the signs should conform to specific size, construction materials, and a specific range of placement-subject to a fine. As for the "riff raff" on State St, leave them alone and they will leave you alone.
  4. dtpeter2
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    dtpeter2 - June 22, 2012 2:53 pm
    Now if he could get the 800 buses off state street that would really open things up. I hate trying to go for a bike ride down state and choke on that great diesel exhaust.
  5. consigliere
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    consigliere - June 22, 2012 2:30 pm
    Well, to be fair, he did address the dire issue of too many cabs cruising State St. -_-
  6. BS_detector
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    BS_detector - June 22, 2012 2:24 pm
    We're glad you don't live here either.
  7. lonerockflash
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    lonerockflash - June 22, 2012 2:02 pm
    Madistan! Ya gotta love it. Sure glad I don't live there.
  8. FourTimesMadisonian
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    FourTimesMadisonian - June 22, 2012 1:56 pm
    Hah! Seriously, the right wing rhetoric is really starting to sounds like a huge hissy fit over-reaction. Enforce a sign ordinance, and suddenly we are in the Soviet Union. It's totally insane.
  9. MNWI
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    MNWI - June 22, 2012 1:47 pm
    Know something I miss when I go to other cities? Sandwichboards, which help me know where cool stuff is (agree with Nomi that this is something that makes State Street, well, State St.-inside or outside of "reality"). Perhaps in other places they've been regulated out of existence? I believe Mayor is wrong on sinage making the city look like "crap". There are MUCH more important things to deal with - drop it.
  10. TropicJewel
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    TropicJewel - June 22, 2012 12:30 pm
    Having a sandwich board that is not blocking pedestrians on street-level is very important to our store! We are located upstairs and the sign has brought in lots of extra people. Part of State Street's charm is the eclectic mix of shops and small businesses--- please help us thrive rather than hindering our business!
  11. glenrusswood
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    glenrusswood - June 22, 2012 11:54 am
    It sorta seems like 'shootings in front of clubs would be of greater priority,
    or maybe the dude shakin that change cup in my face and raging when nothing is
    deposited.
    OK I spose I can walk on the other side...but they"re there too!!!
    I know,Soglin ;walk down another street,Right?
    Or movr to Israel
  12. justsomeguy
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    justsomeguy - June 22, 2012 11:49 am
    Because Madison residents are severely out of touch with reality.
  13. glenrusswood
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    glenrusswood - June 22, 2012 11:44 am
    "The Greater God"?
  14. dtpeter2
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    dtpeter2 - June 22, 2012 11:28 am
    I'm much less worried about the signs than I am the gun violence and gang activity in the city. I'm much more concerned about the random beatings, muggings and the homeless guy peeing in the parking structure stairwells.
    Hey Mayor, can you do something about that, or are cafe signs the only thing you can actually combat?
  15. lukehinsy
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    lukehinsy - June 22, 2012 10:42 am
    Cracking down on littering and loitering/panhandling would be MUCH better fixes to keep the streets from "looking like crap"
  16. jay
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    jay - June 22, 2012 10:39 am
    Why did we vote this fossil back into office?
  17. dante
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    dante - June 22, 2012 9:45 am
    Soglin is working towards state ownership and controlling the means of production? Really, I totally missed that, maybe you can give us some examples?
  18. dante
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    dante - June 22, 2012 9:42 am
    "The Greater Good...."
  19. Stan44
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    Stan44 - June 22, 2012 9:35 am
    I think he is doing that too. The last time I heard him interviewed, the signs and panhandlers were mentioned as part of the same effort.

    side note: sorry that I hit the "report abuse" button, I meant to hit reply
  20. jjc
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    jjc - June 22, 2012 9:28 am
    Wow...Don't you think the Mayor should be dealing with more important issues? and signs on Mineral Point Road? I don't see the big deal for having some well done sandwich board signs, anywhere in the city ... and who is going to really notice sandwich board signs and whether they make the city 'look like crap'(??) when you're cruising down Mineral Point road at 30 or 35 mph.
  21. 1111
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    1111 - June 22, 2012 9:23 am
    Mayor big brother..stay out of our business...if it ain't a violent crime issue...or a personal right issue...stAy the f out of it!! Sheesh smh
  22. Nomi
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    Nomi - June 22, 2012 8:50 am
    I just have to say, as a native Madisonian, part of what I love about State Street is the relaxed atmosphere - and I really think the signs are part of that feeling. It's on campus - playground to the UW students...what is it supposed to look like??? I say, do what you can with respect to vehicular traffic, but leave the signs alone!
  23. Nomi
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    Nomi - June 22, 2012 8:45 am
    "of color", too!
  24. YankeeBubba
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    YankeeBubba - June 22, 2012 8:33 am
    He cleared out the Occubagger Compound & served notice and drew a line in the sand to Madison's growing gang-affiliated thugocracy.

    He needs our support as he tackles his toughest opponent yet; evil, despicable, heartless sandwich boards.
  25. toadmanjack
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    toadmanjack - June 22, 2012 8:27 am
    It all for the Greater Good.... Yes, the Greater Good.
  26. middleclassnomore
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    middleclassnomore - June 22, 2012 8:08 am
    Dear Mayor
    Why not go after the screaming drunks and loud music pouring onto our steets now thats a problem.
  27. nolie
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    nolie - June 22, 2012 7:59 am
    I believe the proper term is "undocumented" signs.
  28. 53703
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    53703 - June 22, 2012 7:53 am
    Hmm, anyone get the feeling this is part of the behind the scenes negotiations for the Block 100 project? (Note, it is just a gut feeling, and I do not offer this as truth, only conjecture.)

    Anyway, Mayor Paul, I happen to like the sandwich boards on State. I like seeing the daily specials, and I like seeing the fun details employees put into them.

    Cab stands are a fine idea. Just make sure they are in well-lit locations near main streets. Many women take cabs home at night for safety reasons.

    Finally, if you want to make downtown look better, make it illegal to loiter. No panhandling, no hanging out in front of the liquor stores, and either go into the club or disperse.
  29. Dick Dastardly
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    Dick Dastardly - June 22, 2012 7:46 am
    Once again, the socialist Soglin moves against free enterprise. Why not just change the ordinance?

    DD
  30. rflulling
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    rflulling - June 22, 2012 7:34 am
    Hey Mayor, I have never seen a patron that had a problem walking around, walking on, or stepping over just about anything in their path. Sure things look nicer with less clutter. But with exception to those with mental disorders and a select few who their undies on so tight they have trouble breathing... Most patrons, and we businesses depend on signs to help find our businesses.

    Now that said there are a few who put out way to many signs and are in general a nuisance. But most of us are simply trying to help our customers find us.

    Let me clue you in on something mayor. Where I work, we are all hidden on the end of a mall, and are not visible from the road. Advertising helps but not much. We cannot put a sign on the building sign becuase there is no room and the last time the building owner proposed a new sign, the City told him to buzz off.
    -So how much does having a very visible sign matter to buisness? It can make or break it.
    -Think Google is all that's needed this day and age, sure it can help. But when Google itself directs patrons to the wrong location and refuses to fix its street locations and constantly confuses directions... No Google doesn't help.
    -A neighbor tells me that when he had a sandwich board by the road he was very buisy and he needed extra help to staff the phones. The city yelled at him to remove the sign and since then hes taken up a full time job just to keep his own buisness floating. That's how much this matters.

    Mayor, if you want to do us all a favor, don't be a bully, realize the signs are an indication we all need help. It's a symptom we are trying to survive. Just maybe, you can help find a solution, that doesn't involve pushing us around.
  31. DizzySlip
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    DizzySlip - June 22, 2012 7:03 am
    First, Soglin goes after cab drivers. Then he goes after panhandlers, Now he's trying to clean up signs from businesses. He's really on a tear. Anybody else think it's weird what considers an "improvement" is?
  32. nortntrix
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    nortntrix - June 22, 2012 6:58 am
    why not crack down on the drunks and panhandlers lining the streets. this is just another example of the antibusiness attitude of the city.
  33. Madisonian16
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    Madisonian16 - June 22, 2012 6:34 am
    I'm sorry, but aren't there more important issues out there. "Oh, no, not the sandwich board sign!" I do agree, however, that leaving up apartment rental signs permanently can be annoying...calling and finding out the unit has already been rented is a waste of time.

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