It's part of a broader effort to update what some say is an outdated zoning code.

NORTH CANTON  The city is working to update its zoning code, starting with how it regulates signs.

City Council will vote Monday on legislation that would lessen restrictions on signs for institutions such as churches, hospitals and libraries. It's part of a broader effort to update what some say is an outdated zoning code.

"As business activities unfolded and changed, particularly with technology, that ordinance has not kept up very well," said Councilman Daryl Revoldt, at-large.

Revoldt worked with city administration on the updates.

The city's current sign ordinance dates back decades. It was last updated in 2003, but those changes made the law stricter.

"The code as it's written now is so restrictive, particularly to institutions, as it relates to signs," said Director of Administration Patrick DeOrio.

Currently, institutions are limited to one sign, no more than 32 square feet, regardless of the size of the building or its yard. They can't have electronic signs. And they aren't allowed to place directional signs — for example, a small sign in a parking lot that would point visitors in the direction of a daycare or administrative office.

"Well, that's silly. Churches and these institutions are not just for coming on Sunday only, for worship. They're engaged in a number of other activities," DeOrio said.

Zion United Church of Christ on South Main Street approached the city about updating its sign to an electronic model. The church wants the ability to communicate its events, programs and other offerings, but the law wouldn't allow for the upgrade, he said.

Church officials declined comment for this story.

The updated ordinance would give regulate institutions more like businesses, allowing them have a wider variety of signs with more leeway in size and placement.

"We're talking about understanding that our institutions provide far broader services today than they did 50 years ago. We need to give them the ability to communicate that," Revoldt said. "The challenge we've got is that we want to make sure they can communicate it at 35 MPH. A sign one can't easily read as they drive past isn't a good sign."

The update would benefit more than churches, Revoldt said, adding that libraries, schools and hospitals also could upgrade to changeable electronic signs.

If the ordinance is approved, it will move to the Planning Commission for a vote and public hearing, then back to council for another hearing and final approval.



The ordinance would allow businesses with bigger signs than currently allowed — mainly fast food restaurants and shopping plazas — to update their signs without having to bring them into complete compliance.

Several businesses on North Main Street, including Arby's and the Acme Plaza, have recently been renovated. Arby's sought permission to update its sign, which is too big, to one with the restaurant's new logo. The new sign would be smaller than the current one, but would still be out of compliance, DeOrio said.

Under current law, the city couldn't grant Arby's permission. The business could either keep its current sign or update it to one no more than 40 square feet in size, he said.

"What do they do? They do nothing," he said.

The ordinance would allow businesses with non-compliant signs to upgrade if the new sign is at least 30 percent smaller in area and 20 percent smaller in height.

"It gives them incentive to say they can work on this," DeOrio said.

Future upgrades

The ordinance is the first step toward modernizing the city's zoning code.

The current law can be challenging, especially for smaller businesses along Main Street, said Doug Lane, president of the North Canton Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It's just one of those things that's been festering over the last couple years. I'm glad they're finally tackling it," he said.

The Chamber hosted a meeting between local businesses and city officials last year to talk about the zoning code. Officials "got an earful and some good insight," Lane said, adding that he's willing to organize another meeting.

Any change needs to reflect that businesses in different parts of the city have different needs; the geography of Main Street changes drastically from one end to the other, he said.

Officials agreed that the city can't take a one-size-fits-all approach.

"You can't take a street that's not uniformly developed and apply the same code all the way along it," DeOrio said.

The city plans to bring in an outside expert to look at the law and suggest changes. It also plans to get everyone involved in the process.

"We'll have to have a conversation with council, the Chamber and its members. Get a sense of where everybody stands, what's their concern, what's their vision, to find something that works for everybody," Revoldt said.

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On Twitter: @jholbrookREP.