Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
After hearing several Tucsonans– including former City Councilman Brent Davis– speak in favor of keeping the current Scenic Corridor Sign Code or fixing just the problem area along Houghton Road, Tucson’s Mayor and Council voted in solidarity to allow larger signs on all scenic corridors in Tucson.
Three plans were considered: Plan A which was drawn up by sign industry lobbyists; Plan B which was drawn up by city staff; and Plan C, a compromise plan that gives business larger signs but not as big as they had hoped for. A fourth plan– dubbed the community plan– was proposed by signage watchdogs Mark Mayer and Kathleen McLaughlin, who sits on the Citizens Sign Code Committee. Although the McLaughlin-Mayer plan was submitted to the Mayor and Council and some residents spoke in favor of it, it was not distributed online with other documentation, and it was not seriously considered at the meeting.
Davis, who had been on the City Council when the initial sign code was developed, spoke eloquently about the vision they had for Tucson’s Scenic Corridors, “It [the Scenic Corridor Sign Code] has worked for almost 30 years. We had a vision to preserve the city’s natural beauty. All City Council members before you– regardless of Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever– have supported it.” He and others urged the Council to think of their legacy on this issue.
If you increase the size now, you will never be able to go back because the larger signs will be grandfathered, he warned. Noticeably proud of the vision and the work that was done on the sign code in the 1980s, Davis said those who have lived in Tucson for a while will agree that streetscapes have changed dramatically since the code was adopted.
In the end, it didn’t matter that there were fewer large sign supporters than Scenic Corridor supporters, the Mayor and Council voted for the compromise Plan C and talked about revisiting the issue in a year. Another issue that came up in the public comment and was mentioned by Councilwoman Karin Ulich was review of the make-up of the Citizens’ Sign Code Committee; there were several charges that the committee– which originally proposed the most lenient signs for the Scenic Corridors– is dominated by people who would benefit from more and larger signs (ie, developers, sign makers).
Personally, I think the Mayor and Council threw the baby out with the bathwater. Changing the designation of South Houghton Road, which will soon be widened, to a Gateway Corridor– thus allowing different signage– and protecting the other scenic routes would have been a better course of action– even though it would have taken longer.