Still talking signs: Electronic signs, bridge banners prohibited, but not a dead issue

Electronic message signs and banners hung on the Polly Ann Trail bridge are now officially prohibited in Oxford Village.

That’s according to the new sign ordinance that took effect on May 20.

The village council approved the ordinance at its April 12 meeting.

Prior to this, both types of advertising were allowed. Electronic signs required special land use approval from the planning commission while bridge banners required a $50 permit from the village.

Despite the prohibition, the issue is not dead as it was a topic of discussion at last week’s village planning commission meeting.

When council approved the new sign ordinance, it referred electronic signs and bridge banners back to the planning commission with a request that the body provide a recommendation as to whether or not it wishes to further address the issue.

After discussing it for about 20 minutes, planning commissioners voted 4-0 to set the issue aside.

The prohibited signage didn’t have any proponents among the officials in attendance.

“I am very much in favor (of) what council did,” said Planning Commission Chairman John DuVal.

DuVal believes electronic signs are “totally contrary” to the mission of preserving and promoting downtown Oxford as a historic place.

Allowing more of them will “dramatically” and permanently change that image, in his view.

“I think we really need to be cautious because once we go in that direction, there’s no turning back. You cannot undo that,” DuVal said.

Currently, the village has electronic message signs in front of two financial institutions along Washington St. (M-24), Oxford Bank and Genisys Credit Union.

As for bridge banners, DuVal explained back when the structure was in the planning stages, there was a lot of input from local officials and residents regarding its appearance.

“It wasn’t just a matter of function, it was a matter of aesthetics,” he said.

According to DuVal, at no point during the planning process were banners mentioned and he believes some of the officials involved would have had a different opinion if they knew if was going to be “draped with a variety” of signs.

“I think we have to at least honor what the community was accepting at the time,” he said.

In the past, the bridge banners were used to promote community events, festivals and charitable fund-raisers.

DuVal also questioned the need for banners given all the ways people now have to communicate information via technology.

“I don’t think there’s any shortage of means and devices to gather information. In fact, banners are probably way down the list now,” he said. “There’s more information being presented to the population than ever before.”

DuVal wasn’t the only opponent of the now-prohibited signage.

“I voted against (electronic signs). I did not want (them) in the ordinance,” said Planning Commissioner Maureen Helmuth, who also serves on the village council.

There had been a suggestion about allowing only nonprofit entities to have electronic message signs.

This was in light of the fact that two churches (Holy Cross Lutheran and Oxford United Methodist) and Oxford’s main fire station, all wish to have electronic signs.

But village Planner Chris Khorey, of the Northville-based McKenna Associates, said the municipality can’t discriminate between nonprofit and for-profit entities.

“Most speaker-based regulations are frowned upon,” he explained. “You can distinguish between a McDonald’s and a single family house. You can’t distinguish between McDonald’s and Burger King. The difference between non-profit and for-profit non-residential uses is getting a little too close to the McDonald’s and Burger King (example).”

Village President Sue Bossardet, who attended the planning commission as an audience member, explained her opposition to bridge banners was mainly based on the fact that the municipality cannot legally control their content with the exception of things like vulgar language and nude images.

“If you can’t regulate content, then you can have anything and everything up there,” she said. “And I just don’t think that’s what Oxford wants.”

Bossardet was concerned about the possibility of bridge banners being used to promote “every social cause known to man.”

“I don’t think that’s what Oxford wants to get into,” she said. “If you can’t regulate what goes up there, then you need to just not have them is my feeling.”

“I absolutely agree, I don’t like banners on the bridge. But what you just said puts a shiver up my back as far as censorship,” replied Helmuth. “I don’t want banners on the bridge, but I don’t like what you just said.”

“I’m sorry. That’s the way I feel,” Bossardet said. “I don’t want banners on the bridge, period and it goes beyond what I just said.”

According to Bossardet, the bridge is supposed to replicate a historic structure to blend in with the downtown’s historic character.

“I just don’t think that years later we need to be hanging signs all over it,” she said. “Sometimes there’s four signs up there and I just don’t think it’s necessary.”


One Response to "Still talking signs: Electronic signs, bridge banners prohibited, but not a dead issue"

  1. paul smith   May 28, 2016 at 1:37 am

    Just wondering if all this pursuit of ‘historic preservation’ for the town of Oxford is empowering for the business community.
    Do potential customers of any business really care for the history of a town?
    Sounds to me that historic preference for Oxford may not be that attractive for any new business.
    Lived here since 1969, and downtown Oxford hasn’t changed, modernized or made itself
    a beacon of progressive business. Still the same old dull brick buildings…with no signage as to what business is housed behind the brick and mortar.
    Shopping north of town, or south of town is going to leave the in-between town to the cobwebs.


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