2016-10-20 / Life in Leelanau

Organization wants fewer signs

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

SEVERAL SIGNS under the state-run TODS program are not in compliance with the law, as the signs are meant to direct people to tourist-oriented businesses that cannot be seen from a state trunkline. SEVERAL SIGNS under the state-run TODS program are not in compliance with the law, as the signs are meant to direct people to tourist-oriented businesses that cannot be seen from a state trunkline. One local group is doing its part to stem what many see as a growing tide of signs along Leelanau County’s rural roads.

The Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route Committee is asking the state to follow its own guidelines when it comes to the Tourist-Oriented Directional Sign (TODS) program.

The blue signs that can be spotted around the county — 76 times, to be exact — are located on state roads and are meant to direct people to those tourist-related businesses that aren’t visible from the state road.

That, in fact, is one of the main requirements of the Michigan Department of Transportation program — that the business can’t be seen from a state trunkline.

“The idea is to help tourists find locations that are not on the main trunkline,” said Marsha Buehler, chair of the Scenic Heritage Route Committee. “Because the signs are now proliferating rapidly, let’s get back to adhering to the letter of the law.”

In all, the Leelanau group has identified 11 TODS signs that it says should be removed due to being out of compliance with Michigan Public Act 299, which has set the rules for the TODS program.

Northern Latitudes Distillery in Lake Leelanau is one of those businesses.

“It’s the best $360 a year that I’ve spent on advertising,” said Mandy Moseler, co-owner of the distillery.

Moseler gets a lot of feedback from customers on the sign, which is located on M-22 near Duck Lake Corner.

“I have had, over the last four years, so many people who have said, ‘I knew nothing about your business until I saw the sign,’” Moseler said.

The Scenic Heritage Route Committee, whose mission is to protect and enhance the Heritage Route, is only concerned with TODS signs on the route, which follows M-22 around the county. It also includes M-109 in Glen Arbor Township and M-204 that cuts across the county through Lake Leelanau.

The route was officially designated a Michigan Scenic Heritage Route in 2002 and a Pure Michigan Byway in 2015.

“The idea is not to have a million signs for businesses that are located down the road,” said Buehler, who lives in Omena. “We’re not trying to get rid of the program. We’re just trying to make it comply with the law.”

The Leelanau committee is working with the Old Mission Peninsula Scenic Heritage Route Committee. That route follows M-37 through the Grand Traverse County peninsula and the group has identified several signs that don’t qualify.

“It’s not personally about those businesses,” Buehler said. “It’s just to slow down the proliferation of those signs.”

But Moseler said there are no signs anywhere else in the county that would direct customers to the distillery.

“I don’t have any other signs besides what’s attached to my building,” Moseler said. “I see where they’re coming from, but I also see that in sea- son I have 25 employees.”

The TODS program has been in place since 1996 and is administered for MDOT by a private firm, Michigan Logos, Inc. The cost of a sign is $360 per year, plus the cost of the sign itself. In addition, ‘trailblazer’ signs along the route from the trunkline to the business can be placed for $120 each.

Businesses that can be included under the state program are restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, art galleries, golf courses, wineries, farm markets and more. Other criteria say that the business must have at least 2,000 visitors in a year and a major portion of them must be people who don’t live in the area.

The signs are placed within 10 miles of a business, or 15 miles in the Upper Peninsula.

Any money made by TODS and another state sign program — Logo Signing — goes into the road fund, said Mark Bott, the MDOT manager of the TODS program.

But Bott said the TODS program is “break even” and does not make any money.

Rachel Tompkins is the new owner of Sunrise Landing Motel on M-22 in Leelanau Township. Tompkins bought the business from her parents, Richard and Jeannie Stearns, who ran it for more than 20 years. Jeannie Stearns died in 2014.

Tompkins said she also hears from customers who saw the TODS sign, which is located in Omena, and knew they were headed in the right direction. Northport can be, after all, a long drive.

“At the same time I’d hate to see M-22 just littered with blue signs,” Tompkins said. “I’d be glad to take one for the team.”

Other businesses that may lose their TODS sign are Boathouse Vineyards and the Redheads Cafe on M-204 in Lake Leelanau; Good Harbor Vineyards on M-22 in Leland Township; Whaleback Inn in Leland; Homewood Cottages on M-22 in Northport; French Valley Vineyard on M-22 in Suttons Bay Township; and the Homestead, on M-22 in Glen Arbor Township.

“There is no desire by the committees to embarrass business owners by highlighting publicly that their TODS signs are non-compliant,” Buehler said.

The groups also do not oppose the program, she said. They just want MDOT to follow the law.

The two heritage route committees are asking that in addition to removing the signs, MDOT develop a process for following the criteria for TODS as outlined in state law.

They are also recommending that the two committees be used to verify that businesses requesting signs actually qualify, as they are made up of people who know their own communities better than MDOT does.

Buehler said she understands that the TODS program is an economical and valuable medium for the businesses.

But an explosion in wineries and tourist sites in the county — which is great, she said — has also brought an explosion in signs.

“That’s not helping anybody find anything,” she said. “We’re just trying to make the program function the way the legislation stipulated that it function.”

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