After two years, VC approves sign ordinance
Replaces 1992 ordinance
VIRGINIA CITY—After two years of work, the Virginia City town council approved a revised version of the town’s sign ordinance at its meeting on Thursday, March 7.
The document—which has been in effect for 27 years after being adopted in 1992—is used to as a reference for businesses and attractions when putting up advertising and identification signs around Virginia City. Because of the town’s historic district designation, there are detailed rules as to what signs can look like, how large they can be and what they can be made of.
The council, along with Virginia City’s Historic Preservation Office (HPO) began revising the sign ordinance in early 2017 and has been working toward last week’s approval ever since. After detailed review of the document, legal input from attorney Victor Bunitsky and many minor changes, the council unanimously voted to approve the updated document on Thursday night.
“The history of this is almost as long as the history of this town,” joked mayor Justin Gatewood as the council brought out the ordinance for its third reading. After a few last changes and discussion about acceptable fonts and the process of reporting ordinance violations, the new sign ordinance was approved, “for the next 27 years,” Gatewood laughed.
The council also heard a project update and news on the legislature from Montana Heritage Commission executive director Elijah Allen on Thursday.
Allen told the council that Virginia City’s new information center and gas station is complete and that the necessary Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permits had come in earlier in the week. Once gas starts pumping, there will be a discount for residents of Virginia City during the busiest tourist season from May through September when they provide their identification. Allen also said the new station will be unique for more reasons than its outward historic appearance.
“This is the safest gas station in the state of Montana,” he told the council. “We took all the precautions, and it’s the only gas station in the state with a vapor lock.”
The information center will include photos and information about the history of Virginia City for visitors who stop in and will be outfitted in the style of a mining shop in keeping with the town’s historic designation.
Allen also told the council about a bill appearing before the state legislature that could significantly impact the Montana Heritage Commission’s funding should it pass.
Senate Bill 242, sponsored by Senator Roger Webb of Billings, would eliminate the voluntary $6 state park fee that Montanans can opt into when they register their vehicles. That fee, which has been in place for nearly two decades, breaks down most of its revenue among Montana’s state parks but 38 cents of each fee goes to the Montana Heritage Commission. It may not sound like much, but it adds up to more than $250,000 annually in funding.
“As it stands now, it’s a voluntary fee, but the devil is in the details,” said Allen. “It eliminates probably 45 percent of our allocated funds and also takes away from preservation.”
Allen noted that without that funding, which is specifically earmarked for preservation in the areas under MHC jurisdiction like Virginia City and Nevada City, it would be harder to fix up and maintain buildings around town such as hotels, restaurants and attractions. That, in turn, impacts the resort tax revenue that comes back to the MHC and results in a downward cycle.
Should the bill pass, it would shift the state park fee from a voluntary $6 charge, which has a compliance rate of around 77 percent, to an additional decal that vehicle registrants would have to purchase separately. That shift, said Allen, drops the compliance rate down to about 10 percent.
Senate Bill 242 will be presented to the Senate Fish and Game Committee on March 19 at 3 p.m. in Helena. More information can be found on the bill at laws.leg.mt.gov.
Other business at the Virginia City March meeting:
• The council unanimously approved new sign permits for the Montana Heritage Commission at the village pump and information center, and for the Rambling Moose campground which was purchased by new owners last year.
• The council also unanimously approved a permit to the Virginia City Rural Fire Department to widen its garage doors. The current doors only have around two inches of clearance on either side of the fire truck mirrors, so the changes will make for easier and safer access.
• Public works director Robert Erdall said keeping the streets of Virginia City clear has been his office’s main focus for the past couple weeks, while Gatewood and the members of the council praised the public works staff for their good work. “We’re at the mercy of the weather for the moment,” said Erdall. “We haven’t had an extended period of cold weather like this for years.”
• The council discussed the course of action for a pair of 8’x20’ storage containers that the town procured and what will be done with them. Toni James of the fire department said one of the containers will be partially buried in a bank before being covered in siding and a sod roof to disguise it in a historically-accurate manner as a root cellar to be used for equipment storage. The council noted that in the future it will be a priority to evaluate whether or not simply building a storage facility or a town shop would be a better avenue for storing excess equipment.
• Clerk Nancy Stewart said that the town of Virginia City now has a Facebook page and that beginning with the April 4th meeting, the council will be livestreaming their council meetings.
• Gatewood commended local hockey player Peter Kelley, who was a part of a state-title-winning team last month. Gatewood speculated that it was the first state title for Virginia City in the past 200 years and noted that Kelley has grown up playing on Virginia City’s hockey rink.