ES Council okays moratorium on new billboards for 60 days

Friday, February 27, 2009

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Critics of new billboard construction in town should sleep a little better now. City Council voted unanimously Monday night to pass a 60-day moratorium on all new construction of off-site signage -- in other words, billboards -- following discussion of a letter submitted by the Planning Commission asking for the freeze.

"I'm surprised we have a sign ordinance with holes big enough you could drive a billboard through it," said Alderman James DeVito, referring to the newly erected billboard atop Planer Hill at the entrance to downtown Eureka. "We pride ourselves on how we look. Cities all over the country prohibit billboards. Even Springdale is struggling with [the issue] right now. If we allow any more of these in our city, we damage what we have worked so hard to promote."

Alderman Robert "Butch" Berry agreed he was surprised billboards weren't already banned by ordinance.

City Attorney Tim Weaver corrected the idea billboards could be completely banned.

"The state has moved you are not going to be able to totally ban billboards," Weaver said. "They can, however be restricted to limited areas of town, for instance at the edges of the city, as with other 'nuisance businesses,' for example adult bookstores."

Weaver recommended if a moratorium were imposed, it be for as short a time as possible, so as not to give the appearance it was a ban.

Council agreed, voting in the 60-day freeze to give Planning time to bring forward an updated sign ordinance.

In regard to Weaver's reference to adult bookstores, City Clerk Mary Jean Sell advised Council she had recently received two "fairly serious" inquiries about opening adult bookstores in the city and recommended they address the issue if they felt they should.

Tree ordinance moves

forward, a little

Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Levine requested Council place on its agenda the revised tree ordinance put together over many months by the Tree City USA committee.

Alderman Beverly Blankenship said she understood the project was in the hands of Planning and would only come to the council table once Planning had finished work on it.

Planning Chair Ken Pownall said Planning had had the project since October 2007 but was at an impasse.

Pownall said Planning had returned the proposed ordinance to the Tree City USA committee previously with questions, but it had come back to them "essentially the same."

Pownall said his biggest concerns were the ordinance did not address "ease for clients" needing to use the ordinance, nor did it establish responsibility "with Parks and/or Public Works" for tree maintenance.

Pownall said he would recommend Planning "come up with areas needing addressing" in the ordinance, then pass it on to Council, which can then look at the issues before sending it "back to Tree City USA, or Planning, or both."

Pownall said he felt the ordinance as it now stood was "full of good work" but too cumbersome for easy use.

Employee handbook

unchanged

Council decided to leave unchanged the employee policy handbook. Joy put the issue on the agenda because of "an issue" with several employees who were unable to work, therefore unpaid, during the days the courthouse was closed during the ice storm due to lack of power.

Joy said she felt the policy handbook was good as is.

Aldermen ultimately felt the issue was an administrative one, not legislative, and should have been dealt with by departments heads, suggesting, as they did last meeting, that comp hours be offered the employees to make up for the lost time.

Council unanimously passed Ordinance 2098. The ordinance will raise city water rates to $9.40 for the first 2,000 gallons inside city limits, and $18.70 outside the city. From 2,001 to 8,000 gallons, the cost will be $3.48 per thousand gallons inside the city, and $6.92 outside the city. After 8,000 gallons, the cost will be $4.83 per thousand for residents and $9.61 per thousand gallons outside the city.

Commissioners appointed

Council re-appointed Ruth Hager, Ken Fugate and Anna Ahlman to the Parks and Recreation, Cemetery and Hospital commissions, respectively.

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