Nancy Ebel and Lynn Valek, St. Joseph
The McDonaldʼs Corp. has filed a request with the city of St. Joseph to erect a new 40-foot sign on their property on Hwy. 75. (The current city ordinance for business signs in St. Joseph is 15 feet.) The St. Joseph Planning Commission voted (3-2) on Dec. 2 to forward this request to the St. Joseph City Council for approval. The owners of the restaurant stated because business is lackluster they need a taller sign for greater visibility. The planning commission debated the pros and cons of a taller sign, understandably wanting businesses in St. Joseph to succeed. However, the question that never came up in the conversation was whether or not the visibility of the restaurant was really the reason for the sluggish business. Is the reason that business is slow is that people do not know there is a McDonaldʼs in town (despite the most recognized logo in the world and a billboard or two announcing their presence)? Or is it that the economy is slow; or that the fast-food market in St. Joseph is saturated? It seems before the city council approves this request and overrides the city ordinance, there should be some research or “beef” to back up this assumption. Otherwise a sign may be erected (and the cityʼs ordinance thrown to the wind) that will not even address the problem at hand.
If the city council does approve this request, what will this mean for other businesses in St. Joseph that have complied with the 15-foot sign ordinance? Will other businesses want to raise their signs? How can the city say no to others if they approve a sign for McDonaldʼs? Also, how will a tall sign (that is designed to be seen above the trees) affect the people that live nearby? Is it pleasing to look out of your kitchen window at a fast-food sign? Will it negatively affect their property values?
Perhaps the issue is indeed the McDonaldʼs restaurant is hard to see. Maybe the planning commission could be creative in coming up with alternative solutions, such as signs at the edge of town directing people to local restaurants (i.e. McDonaldʼs .5 mile on the right), or a sign at the edge of the road, or a compromised sign height.
This upcoming decision by the city council (Thursday, Dec. 19 meeting at 7 p.m.) is not just about one sign; it has ramifications for the whole look of the Hwy. 75 corridor. To start placing signs above the tree line gives a certain look to the town. Is this the look we want, or is it somehow possible to have both an attractive and prosperous business corridor?