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Downtown businesses discuss sign rules

If the city of Grand Forks is going to look at rules on window displays downtown, business owners there say it ought to loosen up those rules rather than put in any new restrictions.

If the city of Grand Forks is going to look at rules on window displays downtown, business owners there say it ought to loosen up those rules rather than put in any new restrictions.

"We need to police ourselves," said Kim Holmes, the chef and owner of Sander's 1907 restaurant. "We have a lot of pride in this downtown. I put my heart and soul down here. I don't want it to get trashed."

The Downtown Design Review Board, which has a say on the appearance of buildings in the historic district, is reviewing its window signage rules. The rules are somewhat vague, and there have been questions from some City Council members about the garishness of some window displays.

A public hearing Thursday on the matter turned into an opportunity for downtown business owners to gripe about other limitations they face that other businesses don't, including paying special assessments for the parking ramp -- previous downtown businesses had agreed to this -- and the ban on big banners.

Sandy Norby, who owns Norby's Work Perks, said she was incensed that she

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wasn't allowed to hang a Salvation Army banner on her store.

On the other hand, she told other business owners they don't want to go back to the free-for-all days before the flood. One merchant opened what she called a "junk shop" and used paper as signage, she said.

But attorney Alex Reichert asked what the problem is. Are there residents who have complained? Other businesses?

City Planner Brad Gengler said the board faced decisions it had to make on window signage and the rules in place didn't provide any guidance, so it wants input from businesses to make those rules clearer.

Those decisions came, in part, because some council members saw window displays they didn't like and wanted to see if any rules forbade those displays, Gengler and board member Marsha Gunderson said earlier.

But, Gengler said, if the consensus of businesses is the rules are fine, then there might not be changes.

The board was formed after the 1997 flood and the downtown district had to be rebuilt with a massive infusion of federal recovery dollars. Part of the purpose of the board is to safeguard that investment by protecting the historic flavor of the district.

Norby, a founding member of the board, said the design rules were written a decade ago when no one knew how things would turn out. Maybe it's time to review the rules, she said.

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Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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