Sign ordinances prevent struggling businesses from bouncing back after fire

Coors Signage

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Several businesses in northwest Albuquerque are fighting to stay afloat. They thought they had found the answer through advertising, but the city says the way they’re getting their name out isn’t legal. These businesses are struggling because of a devastating fire that tore through this strip mall in Sequoia Square near Coors and I-40. It happened more than two months ago, but many customers still don’t know the fire didn’t take out the entire shopping center. When several of these businesses tried reminding locals they were still there, the city came through and said they had to stop.

Barbershop owner Gabriel Baca has no choice but to take down the small signs he believes are keeping him in business.

“I think they’ve been the only thing that’s really kept us going and keeping us from starting over, really. They saved a lot of business,” said Baca.

Baca recently relocated to an empty suite in Sequoia Square after a fire shut down the building housing his old shop 100 yards away.

“We have that sign out just to show people we moved. We’re still here,” Baca said.

Yet, the city says those signs aren’t allowed and they ordered Baca to take them down.

“They have to be permitted and because of this area of town, there’s a sector plan that effects signage,” explained Associate Planning Director Brennon Williams.

Williams says signage rules for the Coors Corridor are strict, in part, to preserve west side views of the Sandias. But business owners like Baca are more concerned with staying afloat.

“Now that we got this location, it’s a little but harder to see from the street so we don’t get the walk-in traffic like we used to,” said Baca.

The barber says he’s lost about 50-percent of business since the fire.

“It’s been pretty rough,” said Baca.

But it hasn’t just been rough for Baca.

“It took several weeks for even our loyal customers to realize we were still in business,” said Electric Clouds Owner Damien Barth.

Barth says they, too, have tried using signs to let people know they’re still open, but every attempt has been forced down by the city, including signs on private property.

“We want to keep the street ways clean, but there should be some way for us to be able to, at least, let people know we’re still in business after a hardship,” Barth said.

He’s now in contact with the city, looking to get an additional sign permitted.

Williams says they are sensitive to recent misfortune.

“We get it, we’re real people, too. We understand that these folks are trying to get back on their feet, that they’ve suffered a catastrophe and we want to do what we can to help them for a while. At the same time, making sure we’re doing our job from a code standpoint to make sure when we receive complaints, we’re addressing those correctly,” explained Williams.

Yet, he says rules are rules.

“It’s a 30-year-old sector plan and the plan went through the public process and, at the time, it was determined that the signs were just not consistent with the way the area was designed to be developed,” he said.

It’s little consolation for business owners like Baca.

The city offers several options for businesses in Sequoia Square. Williams suggested tenants work with their landlord to see if they can get a panel on an existing sign. Also, he says the city is in the process of reconsidering their zoning regulations, which would include sign standards. He encourages businesses to get involved in that public process. Finally, if it’s determined existing regulations aren’t working, Williams suggests tenants get together with their city councilor to come up with new regulations, but Councilor Ken Sanchez says something needs to be done right away.

Sanchez says it’s been difficult for these businesses since the fire. Now, it’s a matter of survival. He says it’s important to find ways to help these businesses to make sure they can keep their doors open. That’s why he says he will introduce a piece of legislation to temporarily stop enforcing the zoning code in Sequoia Square so they can leave signs up.

“I know the neighbors are probably upset because the city is not conforming with the zoning code– the Coors Corridor Plan– but in this particular case, there has to be exceptions where we can work with our business community, where we as a city are trying to keep businesses open, not trying to shut businesses down,” explained Sanchez.

Councilor Sanchez says he will introduce the bill at the next full council meeting on November 16. It will then be held over until the following meeting on December 9.

The last attempts to change the sector plan were between a year and a year and a half ago.

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