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Some Business Owners Taking Dim View of Sign Plan

By Rosalie Rayburn
Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Towering neon, plastic and steel signs line Albuquerque's strip-mall-lined main thoroughfares. Now imagine those signs shrunk to no greater than 5 feet tall and housed in unobtrusive brick-and-mortar structures.
    Mayor Martin Chávez's proposed "Scottsdaling" of Albuquerque has businesses feeling a little heated.
    While many may like the idea in principle, members of the business community are apprehensive about the impact.
    They are concerned on two fronts: The switch would cost thousands of dollars to replace existing signs, and it would decrease businesses' visibility to motorists.
    "We're so used to looking for signs on a higher level, I think it's going to take years to reprogram people to look for them on ground level," said Scott Kuhns, owner of Motorsports, a motorcycle and ATV store on Montgomery.
    Kuhns estimated replacing the red "Honda" sign that towers above his store would cost $30,000. "We're talking huge, huge, huge investments in signage," he said.
    Chávez, in an interview with the Journal, said he crafted the proposal after touring other cities that have passed similar restrictions, including Scottsdale, Ariz. His intention is to make the city more attractive by reducing what he calls "visual pollution."
    "There is no reason to have 27-foot-high signs. In Scottsdale, where they have this kind of ordinance, Burger King still sells lots of hamburgers," Chávez said.
    Rick Kidder, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, said Scottsdale's ordinance initially provoked strong opposition from the business community when it passed in the 1980s. But it has since become "one of the city's points of pride," he said.
    Charlie Deaton, president and CEO of the Mesa (Ariz.) Chamber of Commerce, said his community has restricted the height of signs on city streets and along freeways for at least 14 years.
    Under pressure from the business community, Mesa is considering changes that would allow taller signs near freeways, he said.
    Initial response from the business community in Albuquerque has been mixed.
    So far, the city's two largest chambers of commerce, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber and the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber, say they are generally supportive of the proposal but want to know more.
    "Dealing with visual clutter is a noble effort. But the devil is in the details," said Greater Albuquerque Chamber president and CEO Terri Cole.
    Juvenal Najar, general manager of the Red Roof Inn at Candelaria and Interstate 25, said, "I think it will hurt our business if it goes through." Najar said he spent $85,000 to put up a new, taller sign in 2002 after the Big I makeover removed the Candelaria exit, cutting the motel's freeway visibility.
    Mike Humphries, manager of Sportz Outdoors at Montgomery near Louisiana, thinks the proposal has some merit but is too extreme.
    "Our sign is not a visual eyesore," he said, drawing comparisons between his and others around town, which he thought the mayor should focus on.
    Others business owners said it appears they won't have to make any changes. Jack Baillio, president of the 39-year-old Albuquerque appliance store, is confident his gigantic red-and-blue sign painted on the side of the building at 5301 Menaul NE won't have to go.
    He's right. Signs attached to or painted on the side of buildings will probably not be affected, city planning department spokeswoman Deborah Nason said.
    And there may well be further exceptions, she said. The details of what will be allowed and what won't are still very fluid.
    She did say that historical landmarks, such as signs along Central that have historic connections with Route 66, will likely not have to change. Neither will the new Tricentennial towers at Rio Grande and Interstate 40 because they are public art, not signs.
    Chávez told the Journal he wants changes that are amenable to businesses. He has proposed giving businesses 10 years to comply and said he welcomes more input.
    The ordinance is slated to be discussed by the city's Environmental Planning Commission in mid-August.