The City Council has leveled the playing field when it comes to letting businesses inside and outside the downtown use small figures to promote their businesses.

The City Council has leveled the playing field when it comes to letting businesses inside and outside the downtown use small figures to promote their businesses.

On April 7, the council voted to allow 3-D signs, including figures, in Ashland's historic districts, such as the downtown area. Signs can be as large as to 3 cubic feet, about the amount of space taken up by a barber pole.

But a council majority voted against a proposal to loosen the city's restrictive sign code enough to allow 20-cubic-foot signs or figures outside historic districts. That could have allowed the 6-foot-tall Alfredo the Waiter statue to return to his post outside Wiley's World Pasta Shoppe & Eatery on Ashland Street.

A majority of councilors said they feared allowing large three-dimensional signs and figures could lead to visual clutter.

On Tuesday night, the council voted to allow businesses outside historic districts to have signs and figures that are up to 3 cubic feet in size. That mirrors what will be allowed inside historic districts once a package of sign code changes goes into effect in about 30 days.

"It's making the sign code consistent throughout the city. I thought that was fair. That gives businesses outside the downtown the same opportunities as businesses in the downtown," Councilor Greg Lemhouse said.

Lemhouse had favored letting businesses outside the downtown have signs and figures as large as 20 cubic feet.

Councilor Eric Navickas, who voted to loosen sign code restrictions earlier this month except for allowing the large signs and figures, voted on Tuesday night to allow businesses outside historic districts to have small signs and figures.

He said the small signs and figures must be attached to buildings.

"I thought we needed fairness across the board. It seemed appropriate. There was a strong feeling on the council to have equity throughout the city," Navickas said. "I'm glad we didn't go as far as allowing 20-cubic-foot signs."

A package of changes that was given initial approval by the council on April 7 will allow signs on the third and fourth sides of buildings, as long as public entrances are on those sides. The current sign code only allows signs on two sides of buildings.

Another sign code change could benefit hard-to-find businesses that are located down alleys or tucked away behind parking lots. The city will develop a program to put up signs that point the way to those businesses.

The sign code changes include allowances for sandwich board signs, menu signs and wind signs.

More work needed

City of Ashland officials have yet to make the changes that would allow The Black Sheep's lion, the Bug A Boo toy store's giraffe and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory's teddy bear to be out on the sidewalk legally.

Those animals garnered the most public attention after the city cracked down on sign code violations in 2008. Concern over the crackdown prompted a city review of the sign code.

To address the issue of stuffed animals and other figures on the sidewalk, public works department and legal department staff will be drafting code provisions that relate to the use of public property, such as the commercial use of sidewalks that run by businesses.

Those draft code provisions will then be forwarded to the City Council later this spring or summer for possible adoption.

Business owners with questions about how the sign code applies to them can call Ashland Senior Planner Brandon Goldman at 552-2076.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.