MnDOT Says End of the Road for Historic Mantorville Signs

Drive-by state inspection finds sign for Marigold Days, local café and historic theater must go or city and property owners risk citation

Two new signs along Highway 57 on either end of town say it all:  “Welcome to Historic Mantorville.”  The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) “outdoor advertising control agent” who recently conducted a drive-by state sign inspection may have worn out his welcome, however, after notifying city hall that three older signs along the state highway in this small, southeastern Minnesota town violate state regulations and must go, including one for the community’s annual Marigold Days celebration.

“It’s like his job to go around and look at signs,” said Camille Reger, Mantorville city clerk. “I’m just surprised that after how long [the sign] it’s been there that they’re cracking down now. What’s the reason behind it? “

Two well-worn black and gold Marigold Days signs feature the city’s signature flowers and help define a historic community that boasts an 1850’s hotel, opera house and a 12-block downtown area that’s on the National Historic Registry.

State regulations allow cities to post identification signs on state highways at each entrance to town. For years the Marigold Days signs informally served that purpose for Mantorville—until the new welcome signs were erected in 2010. According to a city employee, a MnDOT road sign inspector recently reclassified one of the Marigold Days signs as an advertisement that he believes is also in the right of way.  This, despite the fact that the offending sign has been in place for  at least 20  years. MnDOT ordered city employees to remove the sign.

“I don’t know what it’s really hurting and it’s in a very feasible location,” Reger said. “We’re just doing what we’re being told and I don’t want to get a citation.”

Though the city has requested the state order in writing, officials plan to remove the offending sign by the end of the week.  The other Marigold Days sign will be allowed to remain in place due to its location just off the highway in the park where the event takes place.

Officials in MnDOT’s Rochester district office did not yet return our calls for comment.  MnDOT’s website says state sign inspectors are monitored by federal highway officials.  “The Federal Highway Administration office in Minnesota monitors Minnesota's compliance with federal highway beautification laws. State transportation employees are responsible for administering these laws on state highways and must remove signs that violate the laws.”

Billboards for the use and purpose of displaying public notices may be erected, with the approval of the proper road authority, "within the limits of any public highway, including city streets." (Minnesota Statutes, section 160.27)  An unusual exception to the sign placement prohibition is that “cities of first class” may have bicycle racks and bicycle storage within the highway right of way with the permission of the road authority. These bicycle amenities may then contain advertisements, public art, and informational signs.

MnDOT’s Mantorville inspection also nabbed two more alleged sign violations.  It appears to also be the end of the road for at least one of two signs for the Old School Café.  Despite no apparent complaints, at least one café sign must be removed because it does not have a state permit to be up in a non-commercial zone.

“We’re just trying to make a living here.  It’s out of the right of way and everything,” owner Doug Schmidt said. “How do you go about fighting it?  You know eventually I’d get cited for something. He didn’t give me a time limit to get it removed, so I’m going to leave it up a month or two maybe.”

A third sign was recently removed from a grassy lot beside the historic opera house after being flagged for concerns over the Americans for Disabilities Act and state regulations, according to the city.

So what about the standard issue MnDOT signs with the city name and population on the edge of practically every town in Minnesota?  Do they require a permit?

“They can put up their own signs wherever they want,” Reger said. “They’re the state, right?”

Tips or comments?  Contact Tom Steward at 612-354-2192.

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*Image courtesy Dodge County Independent http://www.dcinews.com/

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