Sign language: Streamlining of sign code sought

By Evan Goodenow -

Forests of trees have been sacrificed for paperwork dedicated to Oberlin’s sign code and permitting process, something planning commission members want to change.

Applications for sign permits must go before the design review subcommittee, which makes recommendations to the commission on whether to approve applications. Applications must first be reviewed by the planning and development department, which issues sometimes extensive reports.

For example, an April 14 department report on an appeal by Ottica Eye Care of a department rejection included 14 pages of information. It included a letter from Ottica owner Pal Alton: “The sign is not trendy or garish and has a classic look that I believe would enhance the look and feel of downtown Oberlin.” There were also photos and details galore on the sign code and zoning regulations. Alton’s appeal was granted.

Commission members believe the department should be able to sign off on routine applications. Peter Crowley, commission vice chairman, said at the commission’s April 20 meeting that reviews by the subcommittee and commission are often redundant.

“Most sign permits are noncontroversial,” said. “Unless it’s a new use, it seems to me that’s such a waste of time for them and us.”

Carrie Handy, city planning and development director, told commission members the department would review the code to try to expedite the process.

Handy noted after the meeting that applicants often have to make duplicate presentations to the subcommittee and commission. She said 15 to 20 sign permit applications are made annually.

The permit streamlining effort is one of the commission’s 11 goals for this year that were approved at the meeting.

Other goals include a climate action policy review, commercial district rezoning, rezoning part of Rt. 58, and encouraging downtown vibrancy.

While voting for approval, commission member Ellen Mavrich said the climate action and downtown vibrancy goals were overly broad and it was unrealistic to believe they could be accomplished by year’s end. “I’d rather get into the meat of the things we can get accomplished,” she said.

Crowley said the annual goals have traditionally been a “bucket list” rather than things that will definitely be accomplished.

Better prioritizing is necessary, he argued: “We need to be more structured about how we use our time and resources.”

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.

By Evan Goodenow