The Rundown – City to create retail task force
The Rundown is prepared by the City of Newton Public Information Office to summarize the City Commission meeting and does not represent official Commission minutes.
7 p.m. January 24, 2017, Newton City Commission meeting
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the City Commission agreed to convene a task force of local business leaders, merchants, and Chamber of Commerce representatives to evaluate needs and priorities for retail development in Newton.
The group will be tasked with bringing a set of recommendations back to the Commission on how best to encourage new retail growth, support existing businesses, enhance downtown, and promote local shopping and dining. This could include incentive packages for new businesses, grant programs for building repairs, or new marketing efforts. The group will also consider whether the services of an outside retail recruitment firm might be helpful.
The recruitment firm Retail Strategies gave a public presentation last week on its proposal to analyze the community’s retail market, provide its data and findings, and then market Newton’s real estate assets to retail chains that fit the market. Feedback from the presentation was mixed, but many in attendance expressed a reluctance to spend City funds on a contract with the firm without a guarantee of positive results. The Commission agreed Tuesday that they would only consider pursuing such services if the task force recommended it.
A timeline was not set for creation of the task force, although Commissioners did express that once it is formed, they would like to see recommendations within six to eight weeks.
The City Commission also adopted an update to the City’s sign regulations. The ordinance governs the number, size, type, location and physical aspects of signs for reasons of traffic safety, effective communication, aesthetic and environmental values of the community, and to protect free speech. The rewrite was prompted by changes in signage trends and safety, as well as a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona) that created new requirements for cities about content regulation and First Amendment rights. Newton’s previous ordinance was last updated in 2000.
Features of the ordinance:
- Message neutrality: The ordinance is intended to regulate signs in a manner that is content-neutral to protect non-commercial speech.
- The application process remains the same: An applicant needs to apply for a permit from the Sign Administrator prior to any sign being displayed, erected or altered and must be inspected. Temporary signs will not require a permit.
- Applicants shall pay a permit fee of $1.50 per square foot for permanent signs.
- Signs need to be sturdily constructed and shall not be placed in any manner to obstruct free and clear vision.
- Digital signage has been added to the regulations to specify brightness and other requirements.
The Commission did direct the Planning Commission and staff to tweak language in the ordinance that prohibits text scrolling on digital signs so that downtown merchants with small message boards could continue to use them.
The Commission honored Newton High School student Maggie Tyner, who was selected as one of five State Thespian Officers who will help plan the 2018 Kansas Thespian Festival. She will also have the opportunity to attend the National Thespian Festival this summer.
The Commission then recognized Chisholm Middle School teacher Nova Latta, winner of a Horizon Award from the Kansas Department of Education. The award honors outstanding first-year teachers.
In other action, the City Commission:
- Directed staff to prepare plans and specifications for a sewer line extension and new restroom facilities at Centennial Park. The current underground tank system at the park is failing.
- Received a report on new home starts, which in one month of 2017 have already exceeded the full year’s amount from the previous four years.
- Appropriated 2017 funding for Health Ministries, Grand Central, and the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce.
- Amended contractor license renewal fees and curb/gutter repair fees.
- Approved a request to close Athletic Park Circle on April 22 for the Newton Bible Christian School 5K run.
- Received the Kansas Ready Mix Concrete Award for the Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade project.
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