APD sign

Police Chief Richard Pryor speaks at the dedication of the new Aspen Police Department headquarters earlier this month. The “Aspen Police” sign pictured is larger than what’s allowed under the city’s sign code but was allowed under a public safety exemption.

The sign identifying the new Aspen Police Department building on Main Street is larger than what is permitted under the city’s sign code but it received a waiver because of its public safety purpose.

The sign, with 10-inch-tall cut-out letters that are backlit at night and set against a foot-tall background, measures 16.62 square feet, under the city’s technical calculations of sign area. The signage the building would normally be allowed under the limits established in the 19-page sign code is 6 square feet, according to city officials.

City Manager Steve Barwick issued a directive allowing the larger sign “under the city’s public safety requirements,” said Jessica Garrow, director of the city’s community development department, which administers the sign code.

“Both the police chief and the city manager have the authority under city regulations and state and local codes to waive such size restrictions to comply with the chief’s obligations to provide efficient services and for the city to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community,” Garrow wrote in an email. 

Garrow noted that signage installed outside Aspen Valley Hospital came in under a similar waiver from size requirements. 

“It is all under the basis of public safety and welfare, same as the hospital,” Garrow said.

The city granted the exemption for the police sign, like the hospital, to make sure the building would be easy to identify, particularly in the event of an emergency. 

“It was felt that people need to easily find hospitals and police stations,” she wrote in an email.

Would a 6-square-foot sign be too hard to see?

“That is the thought,” Garrow said.

Aspen citizen Mike Maple called attention to the discrepancy with the requirements of the sign code at Monday’s Aspen City Council meeting with a reference to Bugsy Barnard, who was mayor of Aspen in the 1960s. Barnard is enshrined in Aspen legend for leading a chainsaw-wielding gang that cut down all the billboards in Pitkin County. Strict sign codes were soon after established that carry forward to this day.

Per the language of that sign code: “In order to preserve the city as a desirable community in which to live, vacation and conduct business, a pleasing, visually attractive environment is of foremost importance. …  Signage has a significant impact on the visual character and quality of the city.”

Maple said he thought that the size of the sign identifying the new APD headquarters, an 18,000-square-foot, $21 million building, was “inappropriate.”

“What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” Maple told council. The sign code requires modest signs and restricts lighting, he noted.

“Those are good ideas. Government needs to adhere to those same good ideas.” Maple said.

Mayor Steve Skadron, responding in the meeting to Maple, said he agreed with the criticism of the size of the sign, noting that he passed his thoughts on to the chief of police.

Garrow, noting the mayor’s comments, said there may be more discussion on the issue.

The sign code is a complex document spelling out requirements for numerous different types of signs. The police sign is considered a “monument” sign, Garrow said, with cut-out letters. Cut out letters are encouraged.

“In terms of how we do that calculation, we take the area of the letters and divide in half because they are considered ‘cut-out letters,’” she wrote in an email.

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.