Some business owners threatened to move elsewhere after the city council adopted a sign ordinance restricting the amount of space they can use to advertise sales and other promotions in their windows.
During a contentious discussion at the Dec. 8 council meeting, they accused the city of failing to communicate or give information about the changes to the ordinance and said the signs that they currently have draw people to their stores.
Wayne McNeil, who owns Generation X Comics & Games on Harwood Road, said he never heard about the sign ordinance until Councilman David Gebhart, who voted against the ordinance, knocked on his door.
“There was ZERO communication on this issue. I read all the emails from the city. I read all the mailings from the city. I even went to a Retailer Roundtable earlier in the year. No hint of this was given. This was intended to be a vote that slipped by the affected retailers. Notice the timing of the vote — the holidays. Even the scheduling of the vote was sneaky,” McNeil wrote in an email to the Star-Telegram.
The ordinance, which takes effect Sept. 1, says that businesses can use no more than 25 percent of their window space for signage. The ordinance also describes how the window should be measured when calculating the 25 percent.
Natalie Foster, a spokeswoman for the city, said the former ordinance was confusing because while it specified the 25 percent requirement, it also said that windows were exempt.
McNeil said his advertising signs, which show superheroes, are on the side of his building and can’t be seen from the front.
Councilmember Roger Fisher said the sign ordinance was discussed for several years during meetings and work sessions.
“These meetings are posted. It is not our job to knock on your door and tell you. This was not something that was crafted in a dark room using secretive tactics; I’ve been talking about this for five years,” Fisher said.
He said he was concerned about the aesthetics of the city and that the 25 percent coverage requirement is not a “draconian” measure and that surrounding cities have similar requirements in place.
“I think that what we have done is to attract a new type of resident. I think we are doing our job as a council to see that aesthetics are pleasing and that people want to shop here,” Fisher said.
Gebhart, who was the only council member to vote against the ordinance, said that he appreciates the “patchwork” of different signs throughout Bedford but that he is concerned that the changes will affect businesses that will have difficulty affording the cost of new signage.
“They pay their taxes and sweep their sidewalks. I just don’t think it’s our place to say, ‘We don’t want you because you are not pretty,’ ” Gebhart said.
Several council members suggested that there should be a meeting to discuss the ordinance with businesses, but in the end it was approved on a 6-1 vote.
Mayor Jim Griffin said he thinks the anger from business owners is “misguided.”
"As far as notification goes, we have our websites, email and public announcements,” Griffin said in an interview.
He said businesses will receive information packets outlining the changes that will take effect in September.
“There are things we are trying to improve in the ordinance. What they objected to the most was the reduction in signs.
Mark Worcester, who owns Bargain Electronics on Brown Trail, said that when he put up his signs including “laser letters” his business increased. “If this goes into effect, we’re done,” he said.
“I have been harassed by city code and the Fire Department. They [the City Council] legislate from the bench. This should be a governing body for the people,” Worcester said.