Small-business owners have been grumbling about Queen Creek's sign ordinance, which prohibits most signs from being displayed on the side of roads. And it appears the town is beginning to listen.
Queen Creek is researching the sign ordinances of other cities and may consider relaxing its own to help businesses in a tough economy. It will still be a couple of months before recommendations come before the Town Council for approval.
By and large, signs along the side of the road aren't allowed in the town. Exceptions are made for real estate signs, which can be put out on weekends, signs for special events and garage sales, which require a permit, and a few other cases.
Some of those exceptions were made a few years ago, but based on research at that time, Queen Creek's sign ordinance was comparable to other communities, said Town Manager John Kross.
But with current economic conditions in mind, some council members asked town staff at a February retreat to research whether there have been any changes to other local sign ordinances. They also asked whether Queen Creek should make more exceptions to give businesses additional freedom to advertise, Kross said.
The research should result in a presentation to the council before summer.
Councilman Gordon Mortensen said he has been contacted by a handful of business owners who want to be able to put out A-frame signs, which are signs that look like two boards leaning against each other to make a triangle with the sidewalk. He has also been asked about larger signs.
"In these economic times, we do need to look at it and see if there's something we can do to help businesses while keeping the quality street look," he said.
Mayor Art Sanders agrees it's important to keep roadsides uncluttered, while letting businesses market.
"Sometimes when we have a problem, then we have an ordinance that fixes the problem. There are unintended consequences with that," he said. "But especially in these economic times, maybe we shouldn't be so critical."
There's also safety to consider. Some of the research will include how far back from the road signs would need to be, Kross said.
"Part of the aspect we're concerned about is public safety and what hinders the view of a driver," Kross said.
Business owners agree signs shouldn't look trashy, but they say forcing them to keep professionally made signs in their parking lots instead of near roads does little to help business.
At least half-a-dozen A-frame signs stood scattered Thursday afternoon around the parking lot of Queen Creek Village Center at the northeast corner of Ocotillo and Ellsworth roads. The only signs visible from the roads outside the parking lot were an A-frame sign propped up on the south side of a bookstore and a sign for a salon, which was being held by a woman waving at passers-by.
Owner Francisco Moreno shut down his Mexican restaurant, Cravings, a few weeks ago after being tucked into a back corner of Queen Creek Village for two years. There were a number of economic factors that forced him to close, including rising lease rates and fewer people going out to eat.
Ability to advertise also played a factor, he said.
"The town has a lot of restrictions in terms of what you can do and not do," Moreno said. "That didn't help, either."
He tried a number of tactics to try to attract people to the restaurant, including A-frame signs on the road and banners and fliers that he distributed at a park.
Each time, Queen Creek officials told him what he was doing was against town ordinances.
Moreno doesn't fault the code enforcers. But he said it's easier to advertise at his other restaurant, Gecko Grill, in Gilbert.
There, Moreno has an A-frame sign by a road advertising specials of the day, he said.
"If what I'm trying to do is catch people on the road, it doesn't do much to have it (a sign) in front of my store," Moreno said.
Andrew Packer, general manager of Bahama Bucks in the same complex Moreno's restaurant was in, said someone at the town told him to take down an A-frame sign by Ellsworth Road on Wednesday.
He has since moved the sign to the parking lot, but said he didn't understand the aesthetic argument given by the town because he had the sign on a dirt shoulder where there wasn't even a sidewalk.
"There's nothing there, there's no grass, there's nothing there whatsoever," he said. "So to have them say it's for beautification reasons is pretty lame."
Packer said he will keep the sign in the parking lot, but hopes the town will do something to help small businesses.
"Business owners are trying to do everything they can to maintain their businesses," Packer said. "That's the lifeblood of the economy."
And while he understands the argument against small signs stuck on stakes or garage sale signs written on cardboard boxes, he said there is a difference between that and letting a business advertise.
"Ours was a professionally made A-frame," he said. "We didn't have them all over the place, not at every street corner."