Ron Buckman has an A-frame sign that he says boosts traffic at Crown Collision auto body shop by 10 percent. It meets all of Gilbert's regulations as far as height and construction, and he places it far enough from the street and driveways.
There's one problem: The town only allows businesses with 10,000 square feet or fewer to use thesigns, and he has 25,000.
"I pay $50,000 a year in property taxes, but they won't let me put a sign out front," said Buckman, who set up shop near McQueen and Guadalupe roads six years ago.
Buckman said he's never been fined by the town for any violations. But he did lose one A-frame sign to a code enforcement crew, and now he keeps the second, which cost $130, safely in storage.
This week the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Town Council outlining the concerns of Buckman and other members regarding restrictions on business signs. They include A-frame signs and tall, skinny "flying banners," which are increasingly popular but not currently allowed in Gilbert.
Along with eliminating the 10,000-square-foot limit, the chamber said the town should:
Increase the number of A-frame signs permitted per business and the types of materials that can be used, and raise the height limit from 36 inches to 44 inches.
Allow flying banners up to 14 feet tall, as long as they have a secure base and are placed away from the street.
Change the requirement to get a permit for temporary or special event signs to simply notifying the town about the use of the signs up to six times a year for no more than two weeks at a time.
Allowing "boulevard signs" - tall, rectangular banners attached to light poles - as permanent signs.
Setting up an online process for sign permit applications and notifications.
The letter also said the chamber would publish an illustrated brochure for its members about the sign ordinance. The chamber currently has more than 600 members.
Gilbert's sign code has been updated at least four times since 2004.
"As soon as you put one revision off to bed, it's off to the next one," Chamber CEO Kathy Tilque said. "I think once you start allowing a certain thing, people will want to do something past the parameters so they'll stand out."
Councilman John Sentz said he hopes to have an initial meeting with town staff about the chamber's proposal by the end of the month. He hopes to meet with the Gilbert Small Business Alliance soon after.
The fast-growing alliance has about 400 members. Disputes with officials over signs were one of the driving forces behind its formation a year and a half ago, and sign codes remain "the No. 1 issue with our business members," said Dow Rigler, chairman of the group's free enterprise committee.
He said members were generally pleased with the outcome of revisions made to the temporary sign code over the last few yearsand more could be done in the future. But there is more that can be done, he said, such as giving businesses in new or struggling shopping centers more latitude to use temporary signs.
But what's even more important, Rigler said, is reworking the top of the sign code, which lays out the reasons for having the code in the first place.
It's crucial to establish within the rulebook that the town's priority is being "open to business" while keeping visual clutter down to a minimum before retooling the rest of it, he said.
"To do it sustainably, we need to make sure everyone's working off the same page," he said.
Issuing sign-code violations does not keep Gilbert inspectors busy. According to code compliance administrator Adam Adams, 19 sign-code violation notices were issued during 2009.
Adams said the reasoning behind the town's adoption of the size limit that irks Buckman of Crown Collision has to do with scale. "Most businesses with more than 10,000 square feet have ample area to attach signs versus what a smaller business might have, such as along a storefront," he said.
Buckman said, "I understand why you wouldn't want to have those in front of a Walmart," but unlike a retail store most of his space is used for work bays and storage and isn't geared toward public display.