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Published December 03, 2009, 10:06 PM

Downtown Owners Seek Ordinance Change

Downtown business owners in Grand Forks say the ordinance on signage should be adjusted to reflect the modern neighborhood.

By: Joel Porter, WDAZ

Some downtown business owners say they're under quite a bit of scrutiny with regard to signage and displays outside their businesses.

Today they met with members of the Downtown Design Review Board to discuss the laws in place.

The D-D-R-B has been following an ordinance that hasn't been changed in about ten years.

Some owners say in the last decade, the landscape of downtown has changed dramatically, and its time to make some adjustments to the city law.

Plenty of new signs have gone up in the downtown area in the past several years as more business owners have opened up shop.

"The historic district brings a real positive to the downtown, it sets the downtown apart from other parts of the business community," Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce Barry Wilfahrt said.

The current city ordinance on signage in Grand Forks is relatively vague. It outlaws things like large flashing lights and obnoxious painted signs. Board members say the current law is set up to protect the historic landscape but not hinder businesses.

"They still have to compete so we have to make sure we have an ordinance that still allows that but also still protects the integrity of that historic district we have downtown," Wilfahrt said.

"the only way to be treated fairly is to have something that's documented, that people can fall back to, that way you can find out what somebody did five years ago, that you're treated like they were as opposed to new businesses that came to town, maybe they have different ideas," Paul Holje said.

Paul Holje is one of two downtown owners who serves on the board. Holje says one of the pressures of being on the board is coming up with universal signage laws that can apply to any business, from a law office, to a bank or a bar.

"It's a big challenge, especially when you don't know what kind of signs are going to be around ten years from now," Holje said.

Currently, all businesses in the neighborhood fall under the watch of the Downtown Design Review Board. Some owners say they don't want to be told how to run their business and would prefer a system in which the owners make up the board.

"The businesses have done a pretty good job of really policing the signs downtown themselves for the most part. And this meeting today will serve as a remind to the business community that we need to do that more as well," Wilfahrt said.

Other owners today say the ordinance is a bit outdated and should be adjusted to allow for electronic signs and displays that would give the downtown some flare.

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