Business owner against sign ‘power’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A proposed amendment to the city sign ordinance involves taste more than practical sense, said local business owner Doug Null.

The change would hit Null where he lives. He is the owner of Signs by Doug Null, and he believes the new restrictions proposed by the Demopolis Historic Preservation Commission would be an infringement of a business owner’s rights.

“A person has a complete right to do anything as far as freedom of speech,” Null said. As long as a sign doesn’t include nudity or obscene words, it should be allowed.

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The city already has a sign ordinance. He agrees there is a place for certain restrictions. Too many flashing signs along Highway 80 could be a safety problem for traffic.

The amendment states that it is intended to “safeguard the heritage of the City of Demopolis and continue a visible reminder of its historical and cultural heritage.” He thinks local preservation officials are more interested in creating a museum than a business district.

“This has nothing to do with bringing commerce in,” Null said. “What are you going to do if you’ve got a franchise that comes in here that’s got an electric sign?” A business would have to alter its logo to fit the requirements.

The amendment gives the commission “too much power, he said. “Not only do you have to have a permit, but you have to be issued a certificate of appropriateness.

“…Who’s to say what is appropriate?”

Null believes the majority of business owners will use good taste and common sense in their signage without the proposed requirements. “Any time you take a freedom away from a person, what you’re saying to this person is they don’t have enough sense…We (the commission) know best.”

There is also the question of what decade the commission is trying to emulate with their regulations. There was a time when “window lettering was most correct (and) signs were most correct on the sides of these buildings. This sign ordinance has nothing to do with covering up the old faded signs on the sides of the buildings down there.

Some cities have chosen to restore those old painted sides of historic buildings,” he said.

“Their perception of historic preservation is not a true perception….It’s like this is what I want it to be.” Null is concerned the whole downtown district will be painted brown and gold. “They’re imposing their own taste on the whole city.”

A business can be tasteful using modern sign technology. “You don’t need to limit it,” he said.

The lettering on the old Lowe’s Jewelry would not have been allowed under the new regulations. “That’s a tasteful sign,” Null said.

He also concerned that the committee hasn’t included any language in the amendment on maintenance of signs or businesses removing signage once they have vacated a building.

Null also believes business owners should receive grants from the commission to help pay for changes the preservationists are asking for. “If I find out the government is going to pay for me to look like this – hey, have at it.”

The proposed amendment should be more of a guideline than law, he said. Null just doesn’t buy into the concept that projecting a particular character downtown will attract business. “You’re telling business that you can only come in on my terms. That’s my problem….You’ve got to have some business before you can start fussing about signage. In other words, you’re itching before you’ve got bit.”

The city needs to be more concerned about issues such as parking downtown, he said.

Null plans to attend the next preservation commission meeting April 6 at City Hall. He hopes more property and business owners will have input into the future vision of the downtown business district.