Maplewood: Get the signs with the times

Mike Munzenrider An ordinance amendment passed March 25 by the Maplewood City Council requires signs of former businesses, such as those for the defunct Toys R Us near Maplewood Mall, to be taken down within three months of the business’s closure.

Though orphaned shopping carts litter its parking lot and racks that once held those carts block one of the entrances, at a glance, the Maplewood Toys R Us is still alive and kicking.

Though the store, located next door to Maplewood Mall on County Road D, closed last summer, its signage is still in place, perhaps misleading passersby on Interstate 694, while definitely contributing to visual clutter.

The Maplewood City Council passed an ordinance amendment March 25 that aims to put an end to such ghost signs, requiring owners of former businesses to remove their signage no more than three months after closing.

If they fail to do so, per the ordinance, the city will give the sign’s owner 30 days to act and then the issue would move into the city’s code enforcement procedures, with possible citations and more.

Council members said they were hesitant to create more city regulations around something that the Maplewood Planning Commission had previously deemed a non-issue — it voted 2-5 against the ordinance.

But with the backing of the city’s Community Design Review Board, council members ultimately decided that the amendment would affect only a small number of people while potentially improving the quality of life for all residents.

Council member Kathleen Juenemann said she pushed for the ordinance amendment, saying the cycling nature of retail required the move and that such signs are an aesthetic issue.

“It’s flat-out eye pollution — we have enough obnoxious signs for things that are still in existence,” she said.

Introducing the amendment, City Manager Melinda Coleman said another concern was false advertising, showing a sign for what’s no longer there. Other cities have similar ordinances on the books.

Mayor Marylee Abrams was most vocal about her hesitancy to approve the ordinance, asking city staffers if it really was necessary.

“My inclination is to not create new ordinances unless we have a significant reason to have them, and to actually review ordinances to see if we really need them,” she said.

Council member Bill Knutson echoed some of the mayor’s points about overreach, though he said the ordinance would only affect a handful of people, folks who have abandoned their responsibilities when it comes to their old signs. 

Having worked on development projects in Maplewood, he added such an ordinance wouldn’t deter him from the choosing the city.

“Having an ordinance like this wouldn’t stop me from considering Maplewood,” Knutson said. “I mean, this is an exit strategy, not an entrance strategy. The things we need to be concerned about are policies that stop people from developing, not leaving.”

The council voted 4-1 to approve the ordinance. It takes effect after publication in the city’s legal newspaper. 

Council member Sylvia Neblett was the dissenting vote and did not comment during the council’s discussion about the ordinance. She did not return a request for comment about her vote.

Council members also wondered what the city does about realty signs or those advertising massage and other services, which can end up littering city streets. 

“There’s one realtor in particular in south Maplewood that drives me a little nuts on this,” said council member Bryan Smith.

Economic Development Coordinator Mike Martin said the city collects such signs and offers them to their owners or throws them away, noting that trouble signs can be reported to the city.


—Mike Munzenrider

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