When small business owner AnnMarie Miller signed Oro Valley's annexation petition last spring, officials told her she'd see improved police protection but otherwise, things would stay pretty much the same.

"We all signed the petition to be annexed and were told they weren't going to breathe down our necks," said Miller, owner of Learning Express Toys, a few doors down from Trader Joe's in Plaza Escondida at Oracle and Magee roads.

A month ago, the town sent Miller and the other business owners in the shopping plaza a letter stating: "All improper signs will need to be removed by Nov. 10 or the Town will be required to take further enforcement action." The letter singled out banners and A-frame sandwich boards.

"We're pulling our hair out," Miller said. "It's going to kill our businesses."

Miller said the town backed off at an Oct. 23 meeting with the plaza's business owners and has since told them that they have until after the holiday season to get rid of improper signs.

But Miller and others contend that banners and sidewalk signs are needed to draw in customers.

"The small businesses here are not visible," she said. "The sandwich boards and tables increase business because they make us visible to cars as they drive by."

Pat Kittrell, who with her husband Robert, own the Children's Orchard, a children's clothing store next door, agreed. "All of us have examples of people who came into the store as a result of those signs," she said. "Every day people come in because of them."

"Trader Joe's spent a fortune on new display cases out front," Miller added. "Plus two brand new banners. All that has to come down."

Trader Joe's declined to comment.

Oro Valley resident Paulette Griggs, who owns the Village Bakehouse, said she uses the sandwich boards to advertise daily specials.

"That's what draws people in. The A-frame signs and the banners. When you have a special event going on you can't really see my sign over the building, because it's covered by a palm tree," she said. "Considering we were here and we've always operated this way, I think we should be allowed to continue."

Previously, the plaza's merchants operated under Pima County's sign code, which business owners say was never enforced.

According to Oro Valley's sign code, no more than two banners may be issued in any calendar year. Banner permits cost $50 and are good for a period of 30 days.

"Those are hardships to small businesses," Miller said. "What I can't understand is this is going to impact their sales tax revenue," she said. "Lower sales for me means less revenue for them."

Bryant Nodine, zoning administrator for Oro Valley, said that the town is working with the plaza's owners to develop a sign package that it hopes will satisfy everyone. Monument signs for the plaza and awnings for smaller businesses are two possibilities under discussion.

Property manager Rachel George is now soliciting input on sign needs from all the businesses in the plaza. "The town seems very receptive. I'm hoping for the best," she said. "With the holiday season, we bought a little time."

"Everything's on the table right now," said Scott Nelson, Oro Valley's special project's director. "We understand (the plaza) is an older established area and we also understand that some of those smaller shops are impacted because they do not have good signage. For the town to be successful we need those businesses to be successful and we'll do everything we can to accommodate that. The most important thing they can do is give input on their individual needs."

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