Springfield, MO

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Opinion: Some cities know the code for signs

Eyes & Ears

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The Iowa-based Kum & Go LC convenience store chain plans to erect a 40-foot sign at its new northeast Springfield store. It’s one of hundreds of sign permits on file with the city.

Forty feet is the maximum sign height in the city, according to Springfield’s land development code. At that rate, it’s like corporate sky candy.

What if commercial signage had tighter limits?

It can be done.

Have you been to Overland Park, Kansas? The Kansas City suburb has a 20-foot limit on any signs in the city – and that’s for large multitenant developments, such as shopping centers and industrial parks. For individual businesses and offices, it’s 5-10 feet max.

Not only would that 40-foot gas station sign not fly, but the Overland Park Municipal Code also prohibits any pole signs. City leaders want monument signs, and they frown upon directly illuminating signs. Neon has its place, and the code says keep it indoors – and away from windows. Backlit signs are permitted.

Think this is overarching power of the sign police?

Look at nearby Mission, Kansas. Commercial and office signs are restricted to 6-10 feet.

In both of these cities, wall signs are preferred, and the monument signs are only permitted in lieu of one of three allowed wall signs on a commercial building.

Why all the fuss about signs?

This is an economic development and quality of life issue. This is an employee recruitment and retention matter.

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and others are working hard to improve the area’s status for growing companies and young professionals. They’ve been talking about ways to define and articulate our identity as a city. I want to throw this signage environment into the conversation.

Maybe I’m being idealistic here, and you can’t go back on this sign thing. But, boy, it’d sure be nice to find a middle ground. I mean, I can find my gas station without a four-story billboard.

Signage is a statement piece. It’s a statement of how a city wants to be perceived, the aura it emits. It’s a statement of how city leaders conduct business, too.

I would bet Kum & Go or another c-store chain would invest in Springfield even if they couldn’t build that pole sign. Why? Because every other company would play by the same rules.

In Springfield, signs on local streets can be up to 25 feet and for primary arterials it’s the 40-foot max. I’m told it was last modified in May 2014.

If the difference of 20 feet throughout a city’s airspace seems negligible, it’s not. Drive around one of these sign-progressive cities and you notice a difference. It’s cleaner, streamlined and has an unspoken design standard that just feels right. It provides consistency and balance in design.

Let’s face it, sometimes signage makes us cringe. There’s the unsightly 30-foot pole with a hulking logo or lettering imbalanced at the top. Or the flashing, multicolored neon that distracts as you drive by.

In that sense, it’s also a safety issue.

Safeguarding “life, health and property” is one of the reasons the city code of Olathe, Kansas, cites for its strict sign regulations. It also says the sign ordinance “enhances the physical appearance of the city; reduces visual clutter; prevents blighting influences; and protects property values.”

Businesses are for those things.

In Overland Park – where the citywide slogan is “Above and beyond. By design” – businesses are doing just fine. The city’s sales tax revenues have grown every year since 2011 to over a budgeted $55 million in 2018.

These cities in Johnson County, Kansas, are not the norm. But they’re doing it better than Springfield and better than most.

I know: “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.”

But do they have to be so darn tall?

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson can be reached at


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