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Signs of success for Colorado city’s efforts to reduce visual clutter

The city of Centennial, Colo., with help from CH2M HILL, is taking the initiative to keep primary transportation corridors safe from traffic hazards and free of visual blight caused by the proliferation of freestanding temporary signs.

Roadside signs. Left unchecked, they can spread faster than the flu. Yard sales, lost pets, homes for sale or rent, work-at-home opportunities. Add in an election year, in which candidates and their “vote for me” messages can seemingly cover entire corners at key intersections and the result is not only unsightly visual clutter but also a significant hazard for motorists and pedestrians.

The city of Centennial, Colo., is taking the initiative to keep the city safe from traffic hazards and free of blight caused by the proliferation of freestanding temporary signs. In 2007, city council adopted an ordinance designed to keep all principle corridors in the city of more than 100,000 residents free of blight and traffic hazards caused by the proliferation of freestanding, temporary signs. Ultimately though, the city needed help to achieve its vision of a model Code Compliance Division with leading-edge technology to assist in the day-to-day operations with customer service as its focus.

When Centennial incorporated in 2001, its leaders set forth a vision to be an “intentional” city, independent and lean, keeping staff small and outsourcing key activities where possible. The city partners with a variety of government entities, nonprofit organizations and private companies to provide efficient, cost-effective services such as police and fire protection, school districts, and libraries, in keeping with the spirit of right-sized, fiscally responsible government.

In 2008, Centennial decided to launch its own public works department and selected CH2M HILL, based nearby in Englewood, to provide the necessary services under one of the nation’s largest public-private partnerships for public works services. In 2012, the city added code compliance to CH2M HILL’s scope of services.

The Code Compliance Division promotes a desirable living and work environment through the enforcement of codes designed to preserve and protect public health, safety, welfare, quality of life and property values. The division proactively seeks to work with residents, neighborhood organizations, businesses, public agencies, and other city departments to enhance the understanding of local regulations and foster civic pride.

Prior to engaging CH2M HILL, Centennial’s right-of-way sign-removal activities were limited to patrolling the principle corridors and removing signs for about eight hours a week. Since assuming responsibility for the service, the company deploys fully mobile offices staffed with two compliance officers and an optimized route plan to remove, document and recycle or dispose of illegal signs along the entire 112 miles of principle corridors every week.

CH2M HILL also developed a sophisticated tracking system to ensure fair and unbiased enforcement of the regulations. Compliance officers compile detailed documentation on each illegal sign they encounter, including its location, a photograph of the sign, and distance from the roadway edge (signs must be located 30 feet or more away). The data is geo-coded and downloaded into a map for monthly reports, providing a great illustration of the work required to keep the city’s main corridors clutter-free.

CH2M HILL’s approach took the focus off the time metric and redirected it back to the regulation’s original intent – eliminating visual clutter. Using the same technology CH2M HILL developed to optimize snowplow routing that reduced plowing time by up to 40 percent – a program that won the 2012 Institute of Transportation Engineers Transportation Achievement Award for Operations – compliance officers are able to sweep the entire city each week well under the 15-hour average required in the contract.

The addition of an educational component further enhanced the ordinance’s application. Compliance officials provide educational information and materials to all businesses, homeowners and civic associations, political candidates and initiative organizers, and individual residents. Most entities receive a warning the first time they place a sign in an unapproved location. However, if a person or organization has been educated about the ordinance – and staff tracks all those receiving the information – and compliance officers observe a sign an unapproved location, they remove it for disposal or recycling.

“An added benefit to the education component of the sign removal program is building rapport with the business community,” says Craig Faessler, CH2M HILL’s Centennial project manager. “The response has been positive; business owners and managers appreciate the problem-solving, customer-service oriented approach we take.”

During the most recent election cycle, the Code Compliance Division took that education component a step further, proactively reaching out to every candidate or initiative organizer who potentially would be placing signs in Centennial during the political season. Their work resulted in a significant reduction in the number of misplaced campaign signs requiring removal, Faessler noted.

For these efforts, the American Association of Code Enforcement recently honored Centennial with a 2013 AACE Award in the Innovative Enforcement Techniques category.

“Keeping the city of Centennial safe and free of visual clutter has always been an important goal. The recognition the Code Compliance Division received from the American Association of Code Enforcement is well deserved,” says Centennial Mayor Cathy Noon. “The code compliance officers are proactive and very professional in working with the residents and businesses in the city to ensure Centennial remains a desirable place to live and work.”


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