Faced with conflicting wording in the city sign code and also sympathetic toward local tourism businesses battered by continuing pandemic restrictions, a city board tabled action on a sign review permit.
City of Cody Planning and Zoning Board members decided last summer to delay until January a decision on whether to issue a permit for the adjoining off-premises signs on a building across from The Irma Hotel porch.
Two vinyl signs, one promoting The Cody Cattle Company and another Cody Firearms Experience, are displayed on a historical building that houses Annie’s Soda Saloon and Seidel Saddlery. The signs – of equal size with one aligned above the other – are within Cody’s Downtown Architectural District and Downtown Sign District.
Both businesses are tourist attractions on Cody’s West Strip, and therefore the signs are off-premises advertisements that, due to a substitution clause, could open local sign code to interpretation.
Greg and Ann Pendley, owners of The Cody Cattle Co., and Paul Brock, Cody Firearms Experience general manager, did not apply for permits until after their signs were displayed.
By delaying a vote to approve or deny the permits, the P&Z board is allowing the ads to remain on the west-facing wall of Kevin and Lisa Seidel’s building through the tourist season. The tabling action also gives city councilors time to change the sign code should they decide clarification is needed.
Various potential outcomes, depending on if the new ads are considered wall signs or billboards, have city planner Todd Stowell perplexed.
“Admittedly, I have figuratively ‘scratched my head’ on how to apply the sign code to this situation,” he wrote in an agenda summary. “Maybe a (P&Z) Board member or someone else involved … is able to look at the sign code in a new light to find a clear resolution. I am open for ideas.”
Together the signs cover the same area as the former single sign for Monster Lake Lodge, which was displayed on the Seidel building at 12th and Sheridan for six years. The old sign became outdated when celebrity rapper-fashion designer Kanye West renamed the resort West Lake when he bought the ranch a year ago.
Stowell said the signs’ sizes are acceptable and, combined, are still within allowed square footage based on the building size and downtown zoning district.
Stowell said one problem is that it’s not clear if the ads are wall signs or billboards.
“The code is always to me a little conflicting,” he said.
While they are applied to an exterior wall, city code says a wall sign is an on-premise sign completely in contact with the building. Stowell noted the new signs do not meet the definition because the ads are for off-premise businesses.
Billboards are defined in the code as a board or panel used to display advertising information to attract the attention of the public to a business located elsewhere. Billboards may be lit or unlit.
If P&Z determines the signs are not billboards, or that the substitution language is more specific and so overrides the billboard regulations, Stowell asked the board for guidance on how to differentiate between a billboard and a sign requested under the substitution provision.
The signs caught the attention of Dan Miller, who in 2019 opened Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Review in a building behind the Irma and across the street from the Seidel building.
Miller, who received a city permit for new business signs prior to installing them, contacted the city about the illegally placed off-premise signs. His formal complaint says the signs do not fall under city code guidelines.
“They are acting under the ‘don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness after-the-fact’ guidelines,” Miller wrote. “I am a believer in playing by the rules and a level playing field.”
He asked the city to make all businesses follow the same rules.
“Others have been made to follow the codes ‘after the fact,’ including Yellowstone Gift Shop,” Miller said, referring when in 2016 the P&Z board told the gift shop to remove multiple word signs installed without a permit because the open bulbs were in violation of sign code.
Miller did not attend the P&Z meeting.
Speaking before the P&Z board, Brock first emphasized there was no malicious intent.
“In the heat of things, we just did it,” he said.
Arguing the Monster Lake sign had been in place for six years without controversy, Brock said, “This is a challenge … (from) someone from across the street with a similar business.”
Pendley offered a similar point.
“If (the ad) wasn’t Cody Cattle Co. and it all was a Paul Brock sign, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
At the P&Z meeting, Brock said the signs are wall signs and clearly not billboards.
“Like any rule, it’s always subject to different interpretations,” Brock said. “It’s just semantics.”
Greg Pendley said they simply saw the Monster Lake sign on the Seidels’ building and tried to salvage the tourist season as best they could. The Seidels had approved the sign, he added.
“I had no idea this (sign permit) process had to take place,” Pendley said. “We will jump any hoops we have to do to make amends for that.”
P&Z member Richard Jones said his worry is any decision made now could be seen as setting a precedent.
The problem is people are not following code, Jones said.
P&Z weighs in
When other P&Z members took up the discussion, Jones asked why not allow off-premise signs downtown.
Stowell said most places he’s worked prohibit off-premise signs to avoid sign clutter.
“It gets to the point that there’s so much signage they’re not doing anyone any good,” he said.
Because the Monster Lake sign had already been in the same place for years, Jones wondered if there were a way to allow the new signs in the same location without setting a precedent for billboards all over town.
“I struggle with this,” said Klay Nelson. “I’m empathetic with business owners in Cody now.”
He wondered if the P&Z should delay a vote until a meeting of the full board, short two at the time.
Jones suggested tabling the matter and letting the businesses keep their signs for a set time, preferably through September.
“There’s nothing offensive about the signs,” he said. “This is a technical issue.”
Several board members said it’s up to the council to remove ambiguities.
“Ultimately, the mayor and council must consider changes,” Sandi Fisher said.
“The signs are already in place,” he said. “I like the idea of tabling for a fair amount of time so if the council will change the sign code, we avoid setting a precedence.”
“It’s gray, and I hate to beat these guys up over this gray area,” Nelson added.
P&Z members voted to revisit the application the third Tuesday of January with a provision the signs may remain until a decision is made.