Signs, signs, everywhere a sign 

Before the Missoula City Council granted the Hilton Garden Inn’s appeal and permitted illuminated signs on its sixth floor, councilors were warned that such a decision would pave the way for similar appeals. Members were told that changes to Missoula’s sign ordinance—which now prohibits signs higher than the second floor on buildings—should be made through due process, not by rewriting the rules in the middle of the game.

And sure enough, little more than a week after their decision, two appeals nearly identical to the Hilton’s are in the works. Pat Keiley, a planner with the Office of Planning and Grants, confirmed Tuesday that the Courtyard Marriott hotel—a four-story building near the Hilton on North Reserve Street—has filed an appeal, and a second hotel he didn’t name had one in the works. Keiley says he’s only seen two or three of these appeals over the last 15 years. So while it’s not clear at this point just how many sign appeals may await in the city’s future, the trend isn’t looking good. And members of the Design Review Board, which turned down both the Hilton’s and the Marriott’s requests for exceptions from the sign ordinance, say they are unsure how to treat upcoming requests.

“If a new application comes in we still have the same rules to live by, but we have some very tangible evidence that those rules don’t apply any more, and that puts us in a tough spot,” says Steve Adler, who’s been on the board for about 12 years.

While some Council members have expressed interest in modifying the sign ordinance, no concrete steps have been taken in that direction. And the open-ended fates of upcoming appeals like the Marriott’s beg the question of whether Council will now be consistent in its granting of exceptions. Keiley says the process of considering the Marriott’s appeal will likely begin early in July.

“We’re in a curious middle ground where everybody is asking, ‘What now?” Adler says. “And I don’t have the answers.”

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