MANTI—The placement of a new digital sign on the lawn between the Manti City Building and the Manti Carnegie Library, a move that violated a zoning ordinance adopted a year ago, triggered an emotional discussion at a city council meeting last Wednesday, Feb. 3.
Councilman Jason Vernon said while he loves the sign itself, “I don’t think we can break our own rules. I’m not comfortable with where it is.”
City Manager Kent Barton said one of his responsibilities is to keep the council out of hot water and advise it when there are risks. “I didn’t do that very well this time, and I apologize for that.”
And Gerald Christensen, owner of Big G’s Automotive, a Main Street business, noted that Main Street businesses spent much of the summer of 2019 giving input to the city council on what kind of zoning would preserve Manti’s historic Main Street while enabling businesses to remain profitable.
The original draft of the ordinance banned advertising signs, pole signs and Las Vegas-style signs with blinking lights. But late in deliberations, the council approved an amendment to permit digital billboards like the new city sign.
The signs were limited to a certain height and width. If one business got a sign, the next sign had to be 500 feet away. And under the amendment, the billboards weren’t permitted at all in the primary historic area between 100 North and 100 South.
“And you throw a brand new, modern sign up in the middle of it (the historic zone),” Christensen said. “Right in front of the three oldest buildings on this block. I think you ruined the feel of this block and you slapped us all in the face for what we worked to achieve.”
Loren Thompson of Manti, who is co-chair of the Sanpete County Planning Commission, said the objective the Main Street zoning ordinance was to preserve heritage, especially in the 100 North to 100 South area.
“I look at your city sign…and there’s nothing heritage about it,” he said. “Sitting in front of our Carnegie Library and bell tower, with the Tabernacle on that street, with that sign, illegally placed, heritage is out the window.”
The high road for the city at this point, Thompson said, is to keep the zoning it has, “because I think it’s the correct zoning,” and find a legal location for the sign.
Toward the end of summer 2020, cities were awarded funding under the federal CARES Act, which stands for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security.
At first, Barton said, it wasn’t clear what expenditures qualified. And cities had to spend the money by the end of 2020. So the city was forced to act quickly.
“The single biggest purchase we made was this sign,” Barton said. “We thought it would be a great thing, something that would be nice that we probably could never afford” without the grant money.
The city staff looked at various locations, including the Sports Park, the triangle east of the fairgrounds, the Old Historic City Hall and the city building. Barton said the city council discussed all of the sites. He said he recommended the lawn between the city building and library as the most visible of those locations.
Councilman Darren Dyreng said he supported the location of the sign. But he said the city probably should amend the zoning ordinance to make the sign legal.
In the context of the city violating its own zoning ordinance, he said, the city council needs to be sensitive when property owners want an exception to ordinances for what they believe are good reasons.
If someone comes before the council and says, “’Hey, this is what I want to do,’ will we be willing enough to listen and make a change?” he asked.
Councilman Gary Chidester said he had learned from his time on the council that not everyone is going to be happy with any given council decision. On the sign, he said, “there were decisions that had to be made, and we had to make them pretty quickly, and we obviously ticked some people off.”
Mayor Korry Soper apologized if anyone’s feelings were hurt. But he contended the decision to place the digital sign on the between the city building and library was based on what he and the council felt was best for the community.
“We believe it’s in its best and proper location,” he said.