City’s wall sign falls victim to planned message board

It’s likely not often that a city finds itself stumbling over the sign code it established, but this is Keizer. 

The biggest issue on the Keizer City Council’s agenda Tuesday, Feb. 19, was how to avoid running afoul of the city’s sign ordinances while fulfilling a long-term goal of installing an electronic message board outside the Keizer Civic Center. 

For several years, the city has been socking away money, during budget season, to cover the expense. But a problem reared its head when figuring out how much space the city would be allowed for the sign under the city’s sign code. 

A wall sign on the north side of the building already reads “City of Keizer” and “City Hall | Police | Community Center,” and takes up roughly 40 square feet of the city’s 48-square-foot allowance. That would mean an electronic message board could only take up an additional eight square feet and leave it mostly unreadable from a moderate distance. 

On one hand, the city might have applied for a variance, even City Manager Chris Eppley wondered the same thing when two other city officials presented him with the problem and counseled against it. 

“The thing is that the sign code is an emotional issue for businesses in this community and providing ourselves a variance when we might not allow others is … unseemly,” Eppley told city councilors. 

Community Development Director Nate Brown added that the city would not be able to justify a variance in such a way that it might survive a challenge. 

That left the council with three other options. Nix the idea of a message board completely, opt for a smaller – all-but-unreadable – message board, or modify the wall sign and repurpose square footage gain for the message board. 

None of the councilors wanted to forego the sign, and a small message board was a non-starter, which means the the lower potion of the wall sign, denoting the types of facilities in the civic center, will be removed to more than double the space available for the electronic message board. The new, electronic sign will be 17.5-square-foot message board and an estimate from Salem Sign Co. places the cost at $27,650.

City officials are considering two spots for the placement in front of the Chemawa Road entrance or closer to the driveway leading to the rear of the building. 

Now that the decision is made, Eppley will still have to apply for a conditional use permit with the Keizer Planning Department. The portion of the sign being removed from the north side of the building might make a return appearance on another wall of the building – only frontage-facing signs count against its sign code allowance.