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Council takes no action when asked to rescind sign ban

 

Last updated 9/30/2020 at 11:36am

Karin Hill

The corner of Bradley Road and Grinnell Boulevard in Security has an abundance of signs, including political ones. El Paso County jurisdictions such as this do not have as many rules concerning sign placement as the city of Fountain, which does not permit signs in the public right-of-way.

An issue that some in Fountain city government probably thought had been laid to rest many months ago was resurrected at last week's City Council meeting.

A number of people called in to plead that the council reverse its decision to ban signs in the public right-of-way, citing First Amendment rights and concerns that the rule is preventing political candidates from getting their names out as much as they would like. They also implied that there were numerous signs advertising various businesses and programs in public spaces that don't seem to be held to the same standard as political ones.

Candidates such as Liz Rosenbaum and Jillian Freeland said placing signs was an important avenue for advertising, particularly in this era of COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing. They suggested the city consider a permit process to limit unrestricted sign placement.

"I suggest a fair and immediate reversal of your sign ban in this city, and in the meantime, discuss a way to make it an income-producing activity for your city and for citizens to feel more heard here," Rosenbaum said.

However the council took no action on the matter. Mayor Gabe Ortega said the council had thoroughly vetted its options already and never intended to limit anyone's First Amendment rights.

Sharon Thompson, who previously voted against the sign ban, said, "While I was the lone no vote on it, I don't feel a rush to make any changes in it right now just because we're in a pandemic ..." and that "everybody's having to be creative - everybody."

City Attorney Troy Johnson, who described himself as a "nerd for democracy," said he was confident in the council's position and that it doesn't violate free speech rights. He invited anyone with concerns to visit with him about it. Officials also noted that residents are permitted to post signs on their private property.

In other business, the council voted to approve amended appropriations for the 2020 budget and a first reading of an ordinance allowing for the refinancing of utility revenue bonds. The refinancing is expected to save about 10 percent of the nearly $7.8 million remaining of the city's series 2011 water revenues loan.

One of the new appropriations was due to a grant the city received - $5,000 from the Colorado Trust - to help pay for ADA swings at Fountain Mesa Park. The vote simply gives the city permission to expend those grant funds for their stated purpose.

Another appropriation is an additional $2,950,000 to buy and install high-voltage lines toward the Jimmy Camp electric substation. The Electric Fund has the necessary funds available, City Finance Director John Lewis said.

In positive financial news, Lewis said the city's sales tax revenues this year are better than expected.

"We are actually up over budget and up over last year," Lewis said.

He attributed the increase to many people staying close to home during the COVID-19 situation and spending more money nearby (such as Lowe's for home improvement projects) or online, in which case sales tax for the consumer's city of residence is collected.

Other action items included:

Setting a date of Oct. 27 for a beer and wine liquor license hearing for Arashi Sushi Hibachi & Grill, at 8035 Fountain Mesa Road, which is set to open the second part of October.

Proclaimed Sept. 20-26, 2020, as Small Business Week

Proclaimed Sept. 26–Oct. 4, 2020, as "Creek Week"

Proclaimed October as National Arts Month

Proclaimed Oct. 5, 2020, as World Habitat Day

Lastly, the council heard presentations on two projects from Economic Development Director Kimberly Bailey. She explained that a grant to address brownfields – sites that can't be used as intended due to prior contamination – that was awarded jointly to Fountain and Colorado Springs is launching into a community engagement phase including virtual meetings and surveys. The goal is to educate property owners about the free assessments that can be done on their land to identify mitigation that might be necessary to improve or sell the sites.

Karin Hill

A presentation on the progress on Woodman Hall included this rendering of what it could look like in the future.

Bailey and Paul Aragon, chairman of the Fountain Urban Renewal Authority (FURA), gave an update on Woodman Hall and efforts to renovate and reimagine it. Since purchasing the historic property two years ago, officials have embarked on a lengthy to-do list to become code compliant. Currently a fire escape and minor interior retrofits to the second floor are in design and should begin in a couple of months. In addition, a new business tenant – Zenner Mobile Yoga – has added some commercial life to the building.

Bailey noted that Fountain-area residents can help support FURA's efforts by shopping locally to generate more funds for FURA projects like this and others. Aragon added that completion of the Woodman Hall plans would greatly benefit Olde Town Fountain.

"If we could get Woodman Hall to look anything like this [rendering of the fully remodeled building], who wouldn't want to come spend some time down there?" he asked.

 

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