Electronic message signs and temporary banners hung on the Polly Ann Trail pedestrian bridge will no longer be allowed in Oxford Village – unless officials decide to revisit the issue.
Last week, council voted 4-0 to approve a sign ordinance amendment that does not include any language covering either of these signs, meaning they are now prohibited.
However, as part of the motion, council requested the planning commission provide a recommendation as to whether or not it wishes to further address the issue.
Village President Sue Bossardet made it clear she’s opposed to both and has no intention of changing her mind.
With regard to the banners, she said, “It was never our intention to have that bridge used as a billboard or an advertising medium.”
Over the years, various entities, both public and private, have used the bridge to hang signs advertising community events such as festivals and holiday happenings. A $50 permit from the village has been required.
Last year, the village charged for seven of the banners that appeared on the bridge.
However, there was no charge for banners promoting events for the Downtown Development Authority, chamber of commerce and township parks and recreation department. They were considered in-kind donations from the village.
“It’s not worth it,” Bossardet said. “It’s not a money-maker.”
As for electronic signs, Bossardet said, “I am totally against them” because she doesn’t want the village to end up looking like “Dort Highway or Dixie Highway.”
“I just don’t think it’s something that I want to see in my town, in a historic town,” she explained.
But the now-prohibited signs weren’t without their fans in the audience.
Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz wants to install an electronic message sign in front of the department’s main station located at M-24 and Church St.
He said it could be used for everything from advertising community events to promoting fire safety by reminding residents to change the batteries in their smoke detectors and notifying them when it’s too windy for outdoor burning.
By prohibiting electronic signs, Scholz told council, “You’re hindering the entire community.”
Rev. Matt Schuler, who’s served as pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church since last June, spoke in support of both types of signs.
“Part of the way that I’ve found out about different community events is through the banners that have hung on the bridge,” he said. “They’ve been a useful tool for me who is brand new to the community. I loved the banners.”
As for electronic signs, Holy Cross Lutheran Church applied for one last year, but its request was put on hold due to the village’s moratorium on this type of advertising while the ordinance amendment was being drafted.
“For me, this would be a sign that is about the community, that’s about support and love of our neighbors,” Schuler told council. “Really, the sign has nothing to do with God because He knows all, He is all. For us, it’s a way to communicate what’s going on at our church (and) also what’s going on in the community.”
Schuler said the sign would be used to promote community events and festivals.
“We’re a part of Oxford and we want Oxford to be a place and a destination where people come because it is a historic (village),” he said.
The pastor indicated he, too, is opposed to having the community inundated with electronic signs. “I don’t want every business up and down M-24 to have an (electronic) sign,” he said. “But I do think for certain places and certain types of activity, an (electronic) sign would be great for the community.”
Bossardet pointed out “it’s not just M-24” she’s concerned about. Electronic signs could be requested by businesses and schools on other streets where they could negatively impact surrounding homeowners, she explained.
“You have to think about the residential areas that these signs could be in,” she said. “And I’m not so sure that you’d want to live across the street (from) a sign that’s flipping out and having messages change every 30 seconds.”
Schuler noted that prior to Oxford, he lived in Canton and it had elementary schools in residential areas with electronic signs that notified parents about school events. He thought they served a useful purpose.
The pastor observed the elementary schools in Oxford have message signs with lettering that must be manually changed “like it’s 1985.”
“But it’s 2016,” he said.
He believes electronic signs are “tools that can be used for the betterment of the community.”
“We don’t want to be a nuisance. We don’t want to be obnoxious. We want to help,” Schuler explained to council.
Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth said everyone who requests an electronic sign says the same thing, it’s going to be a “community sign” to advertise local events.
“We don’t need 500 community signs,” she said.
Helmuth pointed out the village’s two existing electronic signs on M-24, in front of Oxford Bank and Genisys Credit Union, are already used to promote happenings in town.
“How many community event signs do we need?” she asked.
Speaking as a private citizen, John DuVal, who serves on the village planning commission, voiced his support for council’s decision to prohibit both types of signage.
He believes electronic signs “are without question totally contrary” to the village’s identity and image, and “there’s no coming back” once they’re allowed “to multiply throughout the downtown.”
But to Tony Rizzo, a representative from Oxford United Methodist Church, which also wants an electronic sign, the village let the genie out of the bottle by permitting the two financial institutions to have them.
“It’s not fair,” he told council. “It’s easy for you guys to say no more, but you already (allowed) it.”