Do temporary banners and signs hawking “sales” or “special events” make our town look cheap? Or are they all just one part of “sharpening our competitive edge?” That’s been the question Mammoth’s Planning Commission has been debating lately, a conundrum dating back several years. In a special meeting Wednesday, the Commission discussed the results of a recent survey taken by 56 businesses, including about one-third of Chamber of Commerce members regarding signage and its usage.
And that data could prove useful in the long run when it comes to delineating a difference between outdoor sales and special events, a daunting task, with lots of gray area. As Commissioner Dave Harvey pointed out, “What about vendors with special events that aren’t sales?” Commissioner Colin Fernie acknowledged that, “The line between sales and events has been blurred.” That later led to a discussion about what image such signs impart to visitors.
With Town Code Enforcement a non-entity (the last time we had any was some five years ago or more), signage has gone up willy-nilly; some are at least passable, others not so much. What does all this discussion add up to?
“Talk about a race to the bottom,” Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney remarked, adding that the way she understands it, Mammoth has been downgraded from the Sears to the Pic ‘n Save of ski towns. Chamber of Commerce President Jack Copeland suggested there’s a little more to the issue. “There’s a big difference between being a low-cost provider of a service and being a discount provider of a service,” he said. “If we position ourselves for discounts, that is what we’ll become.” Copeland, a supporter of a stringent sign code, further posited that should Mammoth be perceived as the $.99 Store of ski resorts, it would have impacts on revenues, property values and taxes, and salaries and benefits.
Property owner and businessman Paul Rudder indicated it’s important to ask why there is such pressure on businesses to have such signs. “Obviously there’s a significant portion of business that think it’s important to have them.” He cited some businesses located well off the main roads that depend on sandwich board and other advertising to make their location know to visitors.
All of this, however, it still more of the same discussion we’ve been having for years. While it’s not fair to say that the Town’s been wasting its time updating its Zoning Code (we needed to do that anyway), regulating signage has little or no real meaning until the Town installs a new Code Enforcement Officer, even a part-time one that could be paid for by addition citation revenue brought in. The Town might not be racing to the bottom, but without teeth it would sure be spinning its wheels.
Planning’s problem lately seems to be a timidity when it comes to spending some of its political cache as the Town’s second most influential lawmaking body. Example: there wasn’t consensus to approve even a draft of a letter of support for the position that, if everyone liked the wording, would have been sent to the Town Council, a move that should have been a no-brainer. Council hasn’t had a Code Enforcement Officer on its radar lately, and the idea of a letter might help get the position more consideration, especially now during the budget workshop process leading up to next fiscal year’s budget. Instead it will be pitched verbally to Council during Commission reports.
As Chair Rhonda Duggan put it, “We need to play more cards.” In short, if you want it, get out there and lobby for it.