Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
FOR THE RECORD: This article incorrectly stated that the City Council acted on proposals to encourage neon signs along Route 66 last week. Albuquerque city councilors adopted the bills at their June 24 meeting.
Planners at City Hall want to see more neon glowing along the Mother Road.
A package of proposals headed to Mayor Richard Berry would create new incentives aimed at encouraging neon signs along Central Avenue – the longest urban stretch of Route 66 still intact.
The legislation won City Council approval June 24 after a lengthy debate, and Berry intends to sign the bills when they reach his desk. They would go into effect about a month after that.
“Neon is such an important component of what makes the area vibrant,” said Robert Munro, part-owner of O’Niell’s Irish Pub on East Central.
The pub already has a neon sign, but Munro said the regulations will allow a new neon sign at Newton’s Cradle, a work space next to the restaurant.
The proposals adopted by councilors last week would allow bigger, taller neon signs along the 15 miles of Central Avenue within city limits. Permit fees for neon signs would also be waived, if they meet design guidelines.
Berry, whose administration sent the proposals to councilors in the first place, said he hopes the changes will “allow businesses to create more iconic images up and down Central Avenue. … We want very interesting things to see.”
Not everyone is convinced.
City Councilor Isaac Benton, an architect, said he’s concerned about the proliferation of neon along such a lengthy, diverse corridor of the city. Also, the design standards governing which signs are eligible for incentives could be subjective, he said.
“I think it’s unpredictable how this is going to work out,” he said in an interview.
Benton was the lone vote against creating a neon “overlay zone” along Central. It passed 7-1, with Councilor Brad Winter absent.
Benton did support another part of the package: allowing more flexibility for neon signs in the Nob Hill and Highland area.
“My concern is that the historic signs are going to be lost in the sea of new pseudo-historic signs,” Benton told his colleagues last week. “… It’s very difficult to say what’s creative and expressive and what’s just garish.”
Other councilors supported the measures.
Councilor Rey Garduño said he expects some “self-regulation.” Business owners will want something that appeals to the community they’re in, he said.
“They’re trying to enhance what they have,” Garduño said.
The proposals headed to the mayor would:
• Allow bigger signs. A free-standing neon sign, for example, could be up to 50 percent bigger than what is normally allowed in the underlying zoning category, and a building-mounted sign could be up to 25 percent larger, with some exceptions.
• Allow free-standing, pole-mounted signs in the Nob Hill and Highland area of East Central, where they’re now prohibited. There would be limits on how big and tall they could be. The signs would have to be mostly neon, in addition to other requirements.
• Waive one-time permit fees that normally range from $75 to $150.
To qualify for the incentives, applicants would have to meet certain design guidelines, such as using novel shapes or meeting other standards.
Russell Brito, a division manager in the city Planning Department, said the proposals are built on incentives. No one will be forced to use neon in their signs.
“We’re just hoping for a glowing reception from the business community,” he said. “Pun definitely intended.”