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Citizens dispute new sign proposal

A proposed sign ordinance that would fit into the city of Demopolis’ plans to reinvigorate the downtown area has instead invigorated the emotions of property owners in that area.

“I’ve looked at the Demopolis Web site, and I saw what it looked like in the 1900s,” said Doug Null. “It looked horrible.”

Null, who owns a store located in an area that would fall under a new sign ordinance in the city’s historic district, was among many who spoke out against the Demopolis Historic Preservation Commission’s plans to limit the appearance of a store front in the downtown area.

Brian Brooker, speaking Thursday on behalf of the commission, explained to members of the Demopolis City Council what the ordinance would entail and why it would benefit downtown Demopolis

“This would be an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance in an effort to get buildings to look like they were originally designed to look,” Brooker said.

Obviously, the plans Brooker discussed were not created by he or other members of the Historical Commission.

“You’ve got to realize this is something other communities have done, and it has made a difference,” he said of a program called “Main Street.” “This isn’t something we’re doing to hinder downtown. It’s something that will help make downtown better.”

Still, many in the group weren’t buying the idea.

Among the requirements of the proposed sign ordinance are:

Signs more than 50 years of age would be reviewed and approved by the Historic Preservation Commission;

Placement of new signs would have to be approved by the commission;

Portable signs would not be permitted;

Directly illuminated signs would have to be approved by the commission;

No flashing signs would be permitted;

Lettering on flat signs could not be more than 18 inches high and could not occupy more than 60 percent of the sign’s total area;

Window sign lettering would only be permitted on the second story of a building.

Originally, Mayor Austin Caldwell and members of the city council considered adopting the sign ordinance, but after a presentation by Jay Shows, executive director of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce, the council decided to hold off on a decision.

“I’ve spoken with a number of businesses in the area we’re discussing, and all were not delivered this ordinance and most had more questions than I could answer,” Shows said. “I’d like to ask that there be no action taken tonight and that the historical commission set up a time to go and meet with every building owner in the area.”

Danny Blair, who owns a building downtown, questioned how much authority the commission would be given under this ordinance.

“It sure sounds like a lot,” he said.

Brooker tried to explain the commission’s intention of making downtown Demopolis viable again, and felt residents weren’t considering the positives that could come from turning downtown into a replica of what it once was.

“If every building is brown and gold, that’s about as dull as you get,” Blair said.

Thomas Bell, who also owns property in the downtown area, said very little during Thursday’s council meeting. But his one question resonated loudly in council chambers.

“Are there any downtown building owners on this commission?” he asked.

Council took no action on the proposed sign ordinance. Rather, Caldwell encouraged citizens to attend the next meeting of the Demopolis Historic Preservation Commission, scheduled for April 6 at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall.