The newly allowed signs will only be permitted in areas where the speed limit is 35 mph or lowerAstoria is cautiously moving with the times on signs.

After earlier restricting the reader board outside Astoria High School, city leaders have somewhat changed their minds.

Now they will allow moving signs - under conditions spelled out in a 41-page rulebook that covers the type, height, size and proximity to other signs.

The idea is to allow signs to help tourists while preserving Astoria's visual appeal. "While attracting more tourists to the area, the city needs to preserve the very thing that is drawing them to this area," city planner Rosemary Johnson told the City Council.

Three longtime residents spoke against the idea Monday night. Don Webb, Don McDaniel and Ernie Barrows all suggested the city was opening the floodgates to ugly signs while adding dangers for drivers.

"I think it's a distraction," said Barrows, describing an incident when three children were walking near the high school as he drove past. "I would have completely missed them if I had been reading a sign."

Passing the new sign law follows a request from the high school and further discussions about the look of downtown. Leaders of Liberty Restoration Inc., the nonprofit group renovating the downtown Liberty Theater, plan to erect a sign replicating the old marquee and sign.

High school administrators asked that the city loosen its requirement that limit changes in the reader board's contents to once every 24 hours.

"The city has prohibited these signs in the past due to the character of the city and in an attempt to preserve the visual integrity of the community," said Johnson.

The AHS sign will be "grandfathered in," even though it does not meet height requirements.

Historic signs, including replicas like the one planned at the Liberty and the ones at the Schooner Inn and Hotel Elliott, would be exempt.

The newly allowed signs will only be permitted in areas where the speed limit is 35 mph or lower. This requirement was set after engineers researched traffic studies highlighting dangerous distractions for drivers. Businesses will be allowed only one sign and it must be 3,000 feet away from any other moving signs.

All changeable signs in the National Register Historic District will be reviewed by the Historic Landmarks Commission. Others will go to the Astoria Planning Commission.

Monday's action - the first reading of the sign ordinance, which passed unanimously - follows several weeks of discussions at City Hall and detailed study by Johnson and city attorney Jeanyse Snow on legal ramifications.

"The limited use of changeable text signs would allow use of a newer technology in small numbers so as not to become a major focus or compete with the visual integrity of Astoria," Johnson said in a report to the City Council.

The city has two National Register Historic Districts, downtown and Uniontown, and more than 700 properties designated as historic. Discussions have also focused on the Gateway area, where sign rules are designed to prevent Astoria's entrance highway looking like an ugly "Anytown USA."

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