Small business owners crying foul over sign sweepApr 19th, 2013 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: News
Beautification of post-Katrina St. Bernard Parish has been a top concern for local government and civic organizations, especially over the last year, and a huge part of that has been tackling blighted or prohibited
business signs that dot the parish’s main thoroughfares.
After a recent zoning sweep netted 156 businesses for out-of-compliance signs, a hearing was held at the
April 10 Housing, Redevelopment and Quality of Life Commission (HRQL) meeting to try to get them into
compliance or pay the penalty.
According to the zoning ordinance currently on the books, any person who refuses to comply is “guilty of
a misdemeanor, and deemed a public nuisance and upon conviction shall be punished for each separate
offense by a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 60 days…each day that any violation of this article occurs shall constitute a separate offense.”
While most people are glad to see the rusty, faceless business marquees removed, some feel the parish’s list
of prohibited signs unfairly targets small businesses trying to advertise with the means they have. In addition to the blighted and abandoned signs, portable signs are prohibited; and banners and flags outside buildings are not allowed more than two times per year for 14 days at a time.
The issue has caught the attention of the St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce, who recently formed a committee to discuss the sign ordinance and its potential to adversely affect the business community.
“I guess we want our cake and to eat it too,” said Jerry Calcagno, Chamber Chairman. “We’re passionately
pro-business and want to be able to advertise, but we also want beautification that will make residents want
to move back. I think we can meet in the middle on this.”
Chamber board and sign committee member Sam Catalanotto feels that the HRQL commission took the
ordinance too far and paints all businesses with the same broad brush.
“You can’t look at someone who has an eight-year-old sign that’s falling apart and an operating, viable
business with a chalkboard out or a flag out front in the same light,” said Catalanotto. “I want beautification for my parish, but I want my business to survive too.”
Today’s Ketch owner and Chamber member Jeff Pohlmann said he was given one warning and was served by the HRQL to appear at the April 10 hearing.
“I felt I was being dragged into a category that I shouldn’t be in,” said Pohlmann. “If we I have to take my signs down I will, but it should be fair for everyone across the board.”
At the Executive Finance Committee meeting on April 16, Councilman Guy McInnis questioned the HRQL’s legal authority to summon business owners for a hearing. At the council meeting that afternoon, he introduced an amendment that would take the enforcement of the zoning ordinance out of the single hand
of the HRQL. It instead would leave enforcement up to three entities: the Sheriff’s Office, the Parish’s Office of Community Development or a Parish Planner associated with the Office of Community Development.
“I think the sign sweep has been a huge success in getting more voluntary adherence to the ordinance than any other time we did a code sweep,” said McInnis. “But I think the HRQL has zero authority to issue a summons; this could’ve been done in the Office of Community Development not in a public meeting that’s broadcast on TV.”
McInnis says the council is taking the Chamber and business owners’ complaints into account, and hopes the final version of the amendment can settle some of their concerns.
“I think putting the sign ordinance together was a good thing, and tackling blight was the intention,” said
McInnis. “We’re taking all of that into consideration [Chamber and business input]. When the final product
comes out we will work with the business community and chamber.”