VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 10   |   MARCH 9 – 15, 2011


Sign issues continue to plague Carefree despite new ordinance

Medical marijuana dispensary hours probably much ado about nothing

carefree street signsTom Darlington Drive, southbound from Cave Creek Road, is beginning to resemble a sign forest with signs indicating a change from two lanes to one, speed limit, fire station, the new brightly colored business district directional signs, imbedded street signs cautioning drivers to stop for pedestrians, accompanied by flashing crosswalk signs and, on occasion, a speed trailer.   Photo by Linda Bentley

CAREFREE – Town council voted unanimously in favor of text amendments to the sign ordinance during the March 1 meeting, although it was not without some discussion.

Town Administrator Gary Neiss said the planning commission has been working on the sign ordinance for the past several months, incorporated feedback from the business community and voted unanimously to recommend approval.

Town Planner DJ Stapley provided council with an overview of the amendments and said they added “monument signs” to the definitions for commercial and garden office.

He said the signs can be no larger than seven-feet high by eight-feet wide and must have 120 square feet of landscaping area to accommodate the sign.

The signs must include the address and the name of the complex and may include up to five business names. Only 46 square feet of the sign may be used for the sign lettering area.

Restrictions on lighting would require “halo” type lighting, prohibiting spotlighting and backlighting.

Monument signs would not be allowed on small streets or facing residential.

Because the signs cost upwards of $20,000, Neiss said he doesn’t anticipate a profusion of such signs in Carefree and said it would only apply to 11 or 12 properties.

Because of setback requirements, staff increased ground signs to five feet in height for visibility and a maximum of 35 square feet.

They also increased the letter size for wall signs to 24” in height.

Councilwoman Susan Vanik asked if they regulate what type of materials could be used.

Neiss said materials and color are not something the town may regulate by ordinance.

Responding to Councilman Bob Coady’s concern that the town could end up with a profusion of signs such as the ones recently installed along Tom Darlington Drive that have received numerous negative comments, Neiss restated that was something the town couldn’t regulate and told council about a lawsuit the town lost over a citizen painting his house white.

Councilman Doug Stavoe wanted to make sure the town would not be involved in the process of selecting which businesses’ names would appear on monuments.

Neiss said it would be up to the developer or owner of the complex.

During public comment, Jim Van Allen said during his seven years (as a posse member) of answering questions, “I’ve never been asked, ‘Where is Carefree Marketplace? They ask, ‘Where is Bashas'?’” He urged council to give businesses more leeway and not be so restrictive as to letter sizes.

Stavoe said he would support the ordinance but stated the ordinance allows for signs that are bigger than piece of plywood and will make an impact on the aesthetics of the town.

As council was discussing the new sign ordinance, a Cave Creek resident e-mailed Traffic Engineer Mike Manthey with the Arizona Department of Transportation Traffic Administration Team regarding the imbedded street signs near the crosswalks on Tom Darlington Drive south of Cave Creek Road, cautioning people to stop when pedestrians are in the crosswalk.

He stated the signs did not appear to conform to state standards and said, “A dangerous feature of these signs is a red “STOP” sign with placement as a regulatory sign in the middle of the roadway,” and included photographs of the signs.

He wrote, “These signs have caused several near accidents since installation a couple of months ago. Drivers are slamming on the brakes and stopping for no legal reason. These signs are confusion to both tourists and local drivers. Two days ago I witnessed a minor rear end collision. In my opinion, for the health, welfare and safety of the public these signs should be removed immediately.”

Manthey responded the next day to say ADOT does not have jurisdiction over the signs in Carefree.

The Cave Creek resident wrote back saying, “It is a general principal of law that a lower body of government (in this case local versus state) cannot conflict with state law.  For example - could Carefree install green, round signs with the words HALT in place of stop signs?

“Clearly … A.R.S. § 28-626 requires the uniform application of traffic laws statewide,” and cited statute under the section titled “Local Traffic Control,” which states, “All traffic control devices erected shall conform to the manual and specifications prescribed in section 28-641.”

He stated, “Based on my research, when the octagonal red sign with white letters is displayed, traffic is required by law to stop,” and said the Carefree signs that included the red “Stop" sign “clearly point out state law is applicable and that traffic is required to stop.”

He had previously asked the town of Carefree to review the use of what he called “confusing” signs and said, “the cognitive dissonance experienced by both local and out-of-state drivers is dangerous to the health, safety and welfare of Arizonans."

He said a Carefree Town Council member addressed his concerns by stating, "Drivers would have to educate themselves on what the signs meant.”

Council deliberated over another text amendment to the zoning ordinance, this time addressing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Arizona law allows for 126 dispensaries and the one dispensary that would be allowed in the area that includes Carefree, Cave Creek and North Scottsdale is bounded by Shea Road to the south.

The dispensary will be selected by a random drawing of applicants in the area, which currently total 12, none of which are from Carefree.

The operating hours proposed by staff were “not earlier than 9 a.m. and not later than 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and not earlier than 10 a.m. and not later than 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Responding to Coady’s question as to why they were restricting the hours of operation, since the town does not do that for pharmacies or any other businesses in town, Neiss said the League of Cities and Towns consulted with municipalities in states that are already operating medical marijuana dispensaries and they have found there is a high incidence of crime associated with dispensaries after dark.

The town attorney stated restricting the hours was not being selective and didn’t pose a problem of liability.

Because it’s medical marijuana and can only be obtained by prescription, Coady moved to amend the operating hours to the same hours the pharmacy at CVS is open, which was 8 a.m. to 10 p.m, Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. His motion failed and further discussion and motions failed with no consensus. Mayor David Schwan eventually suggested council move to extend the closing time to 6 p.m. every day, which passed unanimously.


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