City looks to deregulate signs

Anyone who values the ability to freely advertise or make political statements using signs will be delighted to learn the city is considering lifting regulations on those two types of signs.

At Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Stephen Troskey, city planner, spoke to the city council on some proposed changes to the zoning ordinance that would deregulate some aspects of sign postings.

The proposed change would permit sandwich boards downtown, light post banners on private property and sponsorship signs.

Troskey said these changes are what are trending in the planning community and that several cities throughout the state have already, or plan to, go the same direction. Deregulating commercial signs gives businesses more opportunities to advertise and opens avenues that were not available before.

“It’s not hurting anybody,” he said. “We have to do what is appropriate for the community. Obviously, you don’t want a fast food menu board advertising to people on Center Street.”

Although the city doesn’t specifically prohibit sandwich boards, it doesn’t allow for private business signs to be posted on public property.

“We have never really dealt with it,” Troskey said. “You don’t ever talk about legislating things until they come up … why not allow something that is already going on anyway?”

Missy Sharer-Pieters, owner of Messy Missy’s, 1716 S. Center St., said she had contacted the city about putting up banners of all the businesses on the light posts there but was unable to after discovering zoning regulations prohibited it.

“[Meadow Lane Mall shop owners] were wanting to get a little better signage and beautify the area,” she said. “We are very limited in this mall with our signs.”

She said the banners would add to the atmosphere to the area and would benefit shop owners, consumers and the city.

Terry Gray, Parks and Recreation director, said being able to post signs showing sponsors provides incentive for people to donate to those causes that are in line with their interests. Gray has previously spoke about adding sponsorship signs to the addition to the disc golf course completed in 2012.

Another limitation the city is looking to lift is those on political signs. The city only allows a 4-by-4 political sign to be posted on private property. The ordinance change would eliminate that regulation.

Troskey said political signs are a form of political speech, and the city should error on the side of caution since the First Amendment protects such speech.

“If it’s not commercial speech, we should not be regulating it,” Troskey said.

Commercial banners and sandwich boards would still need to meet regulation requirements, including size and height limitations and permit requests, in order for the city to allow them.

Matt Gerstandt, owner of Mike’s Bikes, 117 W. Main St., said his sandwich board helps his business.

“It a conversation starter,” he said. “It’s a foot-traffic generator.”

The ordinance will return to the city council at its next meeting. Like any ordinance change, the council must pass three readings before any changes can get underway.