San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 29th, 2008
Businesses want bigger signs

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

BUDA – Main Street businesses continue their struggle to make it in an environment of insufficient foot traffic and the wrong kind of automobile traffic.

Foot traffic lags due to a lack of open businesses because so many buildings on the block just north of FM 967 are either empty or under-utilized. Car traffic tends to speed southbound trying to make the light at FM 967.

Under the circumstances, Main Street businesses are next to invisible. Combined with a sign ordinance allowing only ten percent of building frontage for business advertising, Main Street proprietors say the traffic situation is not ideal for businesses.

Businesses can’t do anything about traffic, and the problem of empty storefronts stands to be a delicate, complicated matter. However, business owners hope a change in the sign ordinance could help.

Main Street business owners met Wednesday night with Warren Ketteman, who is the Buda Economic Development Corporation’s executive director, and city planner Ed Theriot. T.J. Higginbotham also attended the meeting as chairman of the city’s historic commission, since Main Street lies within the historic district.

Ketteman called the meeting to gather concerns and suggestions about business signage. A series of such meetings, Ketteman said, could result in a proposal to revise the city’s business sign regulations.

Business owners did not disappoint Ketteman by staying mum. About ten downtown business owners attended the meeting on short notice, generally sending the same message.

Business owners said they would like more signage and more latitude in signage design, within limits.

“I don’t think anyone is looking to put a pie on top of their building, like our friends down the road,” said Main Street Station owner Sandra Grizzle, referencing the distinctive Texas Pie Company sign on Center Street in Kyle. “But it’s nice to let people be expressive in their own ways.”

Buda and Kyle approach business signage from two different directions, each of which forces different challenges on business owners.

Buda has firm regulations, meaning business owners know exactly what will be allowed, and that sign designs can be presented at relatively little expense. The downside is limitations on sign size and design.

Kyle’s commercial overlay district allows a wide variety of signage, meaning businesses can be much more expressive. But the process of winning approval for a sign is much more expensive, troublesome and risky. Businesses in the downtown commercial overlay district must work up some kind of visual representation, often a professional drawing, for presentation to city officials. If the zoning board and city council give the high sign, simply because they like the look, the sign is approved.

The differences are night and day, obvious simply by driving down Main Street in Buda and Center Street in Kyle.

On Main Street, business owners speak as if one must apply concentration practically suitable for a Lewis and Clark expedition to figure out which storefronts have active businesses, let alone what those businesses are.

“I’ve had people say, ‘We’ve lived here for 15 or 20 years and didn’t know there was a barber shop here,’ ” said Mike Evans, owner of Mike’s Barber Shop on Main Street.

On Center Street, the potential exists for blinding wonders of the eye, such as the Texas Pie Company sign and the huge, zonked-out paper mache cat that once lounged atop for former Lost Cat coffee house.

“What’s wrong with being original?” asked Richard Skanse, owner of Constantine’s Pizzeria on Buda’s Main Street. “The Lost Cat sign, everybody talked about it.”

Former Buda Mayor Billy Gray, who now is running for an at-large seat on the city council, attended Wednesday night’s meeting on behalf of his wife, Tammy Gray, who owns Buda Drug Store on Railroad Street. Tammy Gray ran several businesses in Austin before deciding three years ago to take her operations to Buda. Gray said his wife, too, is frustrated by the lack of street visibility in Buda.

“We’re trying to advertise our businesses, but we’re also trying to advertise Buda,” Billy Gray said. “My wife tells me, ‘I came from Austin. Austin is weird. Buda isn’t weird. It’s stupid.’ ”

Downtown Buda business owners also voiced frustration that they’re allowed little signage compared with businesses along Interstate-35. Though Buda’s city council has turned back requests from I-35 businesses for larger signs, those businesses still are largely visible for highway traffic.

“You spend this money, you make all this investment, trying to make a profit,” Gray said. “We’re treated like a third-class citizen compared with the people on 35.”

At the heart of the issue in downtown Buda is Main Street’s designation as an historic district, where some interested parties desire a more vibrant, business-friendly environment. The historic sensibility favors an under-stated approach to signage, while businesses want to make their presence easily noticed.

“I don’t think people should be penalized for trying to do business if it’s done in a tasteful way within the parameters of that district,” said Eileen Conley, owner of Memory Lane Antiques on Main Street.

Business owners and Ketteman agreed that the downtown merchants could benefit from some fashion of aggregated, off-site signage pointing motorists and pedestrians to area stores and restaurants. Ketteman said it would especially aid businesses off Main Street, such as Chavelo’s Mexican Restaurant, which is located on Austin Street. Presently, Buda’s regulations don’t allow off-site signage.

Business owners also said the city’s fees for banners to promote specific sales and events are excessive. Sidewalk signage in some kind of sandwich board style is another item on the business wish list. Ketteman suggested that such signs should be taken down after business hours and meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements by leaving four feet of sidewalk passage.

Ketteman offered two examples from other nearby cities for the consideration of business owners. Fredericksburg, for one, allows two square feet of signage for every linear foot of store frontage measured across, up to a maximum of 80 square feet. Under that scenario, businesses in Buda would be allowed more signage.

If a business in Buda has 15 feet of frontage across and 15 feet top to bottom, it adds up to 225 square feet. In Buda, that allows 22.5 square feet of signage. In Fredericksburg, two square feet of signage for 15 feet across adds up to 30 square feet of signage.

On the other side, Ketteman gave the example of Taylor, which allows one square foot of signage for every two linear feet horizontally. In that case, the same business would be allowed less than ten square feet of signage.

“That’s why Taylor is boarded up,” Higginbotham said.

Ketteman emphasized to business owners that it’s important to craft specific changes in the sign ordinance for the Buda City Council’s approval, since councilmembers probably can’t spend a lot of time working through the details themselves. The chances of passing a change, Ketteman said, are much better if business owners can agree to a change. He added, however, that it won’t be easy reconciling a broad range of conflicting desires.

“We won’t get this done in two hours,” he said.

The discussion will continue with future meetings.

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