Sign rules will become clear to Dayton business owners |

Sign rules will become clear to Dayton business owners

Teya Vitu

DAYTON – Coming months should see all business owners in Dayton’s historic district becoming familiar with the special sign rules to preserve the historic quality of Nevada’s oldest settlement.

Special rules have governed the Comstock Historic District since 1969 but district commissioners acknowledge that in recent years they haven’t informed property owners well enough about the sign regulations.

The two primary components are: business signs must have an appropriate historic look, and commission approval is required before new signs are put up.

The commission intends to spell out these rules at a sign workshop in February as well as in letters to each property owner in the Dayton district. The workshop would also allow business owners to come up with design standards they would like to see in Dayton’s historic core.

“People in Dayton have to figure out where they want to stop time,” said Andria Daley-Taylor, the commission’s chairman.

Every new turn in the Mia’s Swiss Restaurant controversy has heightened commission awareness that rules only work if everybody knows them and if they are enforced consistently.

“When Joe and I bought the (Wild Horse Saloon) building, nobody from the historic district came and told us there were regulations,” Bonnie Stryker told the commission this week. “There needs to be specific guidelines given to people who buy buildings in the historic district. Reading in the paper that I was in violation was shocking.”

The commission ultimately approved the Wild Horse Saloon signs which are already in place.

But in July the commission pounced on Max Kuerzi after he painted over the historic Odeon Hall and Saloon sign at Mia’s without commission approval.

Kuerzi claimed several other businesses raised signs without approval.

Kuerzi’s argument didn’t help his cause since the commission this week decided to ask the attorney general if Kuerzi should be prosecuted.

But Kuerzi’s claims did encourage District Commissioner Bob Milz and District Administrator Bert Bedeau to survey all signs in the district and check district approval records.

“This seems to be the main problem in Dayton, that people do things and say, ‘We don’t know we’re in (a historic district),'” Milz said.

Not only did Milz and Bedeau find signs not approved by the commission, they also discovered their own records don’t acknowledge all sign approvals the commission has made.

The commission learned about one lapse in records Monday. Camille Meggerson, owner of Bloomer’s on Highway 50, had been given a sign violation but she told the commission it approved her sign four years ago. Commissioners who were on the board at that time vaguely remembered approving the Bloomer’s signs.

“We need to draw a line to establish what we’re doing as a board,” said Commissioner Ron James, also the state historic preservation officer.

The Comstock Historic District – including Virginia City, Silver City, Gold Hill, parts of Dayton and Sutro – wants to draw lines literally and figuratively.

Does a business have to keep a sign up because it was once the Odeon Hall or a haberdashery shop but now is another business? Opinions on the commission differ.

“Businesses come and go,” James said. “We don’t expect a sign to reflect a historic use of the building.”

But that apparently doesn’t mean the Odeon Hall sign, dating from about 1907, may be removed.

“There have been some signs, because of their age and greater meaning to the history of Nevada, that this commission went to the wall to defend,” Commissioner Chuck Haynes said.

James explained that the commission seeks to preserve the past that is presently in place. He doesn’t expect someone to put up a sign from a business that left in 1920 and took its sign off.

But signs that have endured the decades and changes in business are another matter, the Odeon Hall and Saloon sign being the current example.

“We are here to preserve the present,” James said. “The Odeon Hall sign was there.”

The district now is in the preliminary stages of redrawing the historic district lines, which have not changed since 1990.

Bedeau’s initial proposals call for dropping the area north of Second Avenue and adding willing property owners south of Silver Street and on River Street. He also wants to add the Dayton Cemetery to the historic district.

Each property owner within the proposed expansion will be notified. Two owners on River Street and two on Silver Street on Monday opted out of joining the historic district.

“The proposed expansion of the district does not mean you have to do it,” Milz said.