Planning Commission to clarify sign ordinance

Published 9:06 am Friday, May 8, 2015

The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission discussed the details of some portions of the proposed sign ordinance during a workshop session Thursday night.

The commission tabled a decision on the sign ordinance during last month’s meeting after questions concerning the legality of some portions of the document were raised. The commission decided to wait on voting on the revised ordinance until after a legal opinion could be received.

Director of Planning and Development Jon Hartman forwarded the sign ordinance to the Municipal Technical Advisory Service for their opinion, and had city attorney Roger Day go over the document before the workshop.

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The commission was concerned with the portions of the ordinance regulating political signs, human directional signs and banner signs.

Resolutions were quickly found for the questions on the political signs and banner signs, but the fate of the human directional signs was left up to debate when the sign ordinance is brought back before the commission next month.

“MTAS reviewed the ordinance and said overall it looked good,” Hartman said. “There were some areas where the wording could be clarified.”

One of those areas was for political signs. The suggestion from MTAS was to add the phrase “not related to elections” to determine which signs would be regulated over which would not, Hartman said.

Signs related to elections – those endorsing a certain candidate or issue on the ballot – can only be left up for a set amount of time and must meet sign size requirements. However, political signs relating to a general issue or idea cannot be more regulated than any other sign type.

“A sign that says ‘Pro Life’ would not have the regulations of a sign related to an election,” Hartman said. “However, if the sign said ‘Pro Life, Amendment 2’ then it would come under those regulations because it mentions a specific item in the election. A sign that says ‘Get our troops out of Iraq’ would not have anything to do with an election.”

The issue with the banner signs also came from wording. In the ordinance, the section stated only one banner sign is allowed and it should be attached to a wall, not on posts in a yard. After reviewing the wording, the commission found the section was misworded from the intent of the Sign Ordinance Committee.

“We did not mean to exclude signs on stakes,” Dena Bass said. “That was meant to limit the number of signs that can be attached to a building to one.”

The commission could not come to an agreement for revisions to the section on human directional signs. A human directional sign was defined as someone who were a costume or a sign and stands near the road and waves, dances or twirls a sign to get attention from passersby.

The revised ordinance originally banned all human signs, but commissioner Melanie Sellers felt the ordinance change was too restrictive.

“We don’t want anyone to use this as a regular means of advertising,” Sellers said. “For special occasions or one-time events, I don’t think it is that big of a deal. What we want to prevent is them out there all the time.”

One of the main reasons the committee suggested banning the signs was for the safety of the people involved. Commissioners were worried the pedestrians could be hit by passing cars or that the sign could be ripped from the persons hand by the wind and blown into traffic, causing an accident.

Sellers suggested putting setback requirements on the human signs that would require the people to stand further back from the road. The idea was met with hesitation that it would be hard to enforce.

“I do believe those type of signs pose a distraction,” Jeff Treadway said. “I feel it is almost unenforceable to do it that way.”

The commission agreed to halt discussion until the ordinance was back before them for approval.

City staff will now make the proposed changes to the document and the commission will consider the ordinance again in June.