By Mary Hladky
After at least five years of on-again, off-again effort, the City Council has repealed the city’s ordinance regulating signs and replaced it with a new one.
The new sign code, approved unanimously on May 27, is intended to streamline byzantine rules that made getting sign approval difficult and time-consuming.
“What a remarkable improvement to our code,” said architect Doug Mummaw, who often works with downtown commercial landowner Investments Limited. “The aesthetics of our community are now elevated to the highest level. You will soon see signs replaced by high-quality signage.”
“This ordinance will produce much higher quality signs in the city,” said former city Planning and Zoning Board member Glenn Gromann. “Staff did a fantastic job of creating a top-shelf city ordinance.”
One impetus for change was a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sign regulations must conform to the First Amendment and cannot be based on the content of words on the sign. That largely limited governments to scrutinizing signs for aesthetics and traffic safety, prompting many across the country to revamp their sign codes.
Beyond that, the old sign code was criticized for being difficult to understand and apply and outdated because it did not account for new types of signs created since the code was adopted.
The sign approval process also was inefficient. The Community Appearance Board reviewed sign approval applications, which dominated its agenda. CAB decisions not to approve signs frequently were appealed to the City Council, which could overrule the CAB.
Under the new sign code, city staff has authority to approve or disapprove proposed signs to speed up the process. The CAB would weigh in only in certain circumstances. Sign variances would be granted by the CAB, rather than the City Council.
The new sign code limits permanent signs to a maximum of three colors, not including black and white, although the CAB could increase the number. For signs listing multiple tenants of a building or shopping center, a maximum of four occupant panels would be allowed, with the CAB allowed to increase the number to six.
The code includes new rules for temporary real estate signs advertising a property for sale, rent or lease.
It also controls election signs, saying that in the 45 days leading up to an election, as many as six signs can be displayed in a homeowner’s yard. It requires the signs to be removed within five days after the election.
A companion ordinance, also approved unanimously, updates rules for subdivision entrance features to ensure they are consistent with the new sign code, and strengthens regulations for flags and flagpoles.