A certain ostensibly short-term sign in Peters Township has been catching Frank Kosir Jr.’s eye for quite a while.
“That one’s been there for at least eight years,” the township council member said, “because I’ve seen it every day that I’ve taken my daughter to daycare, and she’ll be eight tomorrow.”
He provided the observation during council’s public hearing Monday regarding a proposed overhaul of the Signage and Public Displays section of township code of ordinances. Part of the intent is to address signs, one variety in particular, that in some cases have been standing so long that the paint has faded.
“I do not see these types of for-lease signs throughout other communities,” township manager Paul Lauer said. “This is something unique to Peters Township, these large signs that have been up for a long time.”
The proposed changes to the code, which are subject to council’s approval, include language regulating temporary signs as to height, setback, fixed locations, stability, measurements and other aspects.
For short-term signs on properties that are for lease in commercial, mixed-use and industrial districts, they would be permitted only if incorporated into an existing “monument” placeholder or pole-style, free-standing sign. Maximum height is listed as one foot, with the width matching that “of the existing monument or pole sign.”
“May remain until all available on-site units are leased,” the proposed ordinance further states.
Township assistant planning director Seth Koons told council property owners would have numerous opportunities to display information about vacancies.
“All of these commercial properties are allotted a certain size for their monument signs,” he said. “They can potentially utilize a larger portion inside of their monument signs. If they have these tenant panels for individual tenants, they could replace those tenant panels as those units become available with these ‘for lease’ signs.”
Other options including using electronic variable message signs and applying for standard temporary sign permits.
“They can do that for two weeks at a time,” Koons said about the latter, “and they can do it up to six times per year.”
Council member Monica Merrell expressed concern about the potential impact on the commercial community.
“Right now, we obviously know that there are a lot of businesses struggling, and landlords struggling with trying to fill vacancies,” she said. “And I would hate for us to try to make it even more difficult.”
She inquired whether the new regulations would apply to existing “temporary” signs, and Lauer said township staff members are working with solicitor John Smith on addressing that particular issue.
“If you had a permanent sign that became nonconforming, it could stay there. The question is, can a temporary sign that becomes nonconforming stay there?” Lauer asked. “And we don’t know the answer to that yet.”
Another key element of new Signage and Public Displays regulations involves adhering to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that “clarified the circumstances in which municipalities across the country may impose content-based restrictions on signage,” according to a memo from Koons to council members.
“To replace those regulations that we removed, we’re proposing some content-neutral regulations that primarily focus on size, location, frequency and duration,” he said during the public hearing.
A particular area of consideration is politically oriented signage.
“What we’ve done in the ordinance is craft what we call a political season, and it gives property owners the opportunity to put up additional temporary signs, theoretically regardless of content because we can’t regulate based on the content,” Koons said. “Our time period on that would be three months in advance of a primary or general election, and up to one week after, for residential districts.”
Some council members questioned attempts to limit such displays.
“I don’t want to see us get backed into a corner, because this comes up every year during elections, particularly in presidential years, where communities try and regulate signs,” David Ball, council chairman, said. “Housing developments, for example, will try and put regulations on where signs can be placed and how long they can be there. And they go to court, and they lose.”
Kosir referenced a provision that would limit quantity.
“I’m not sure that you can regulate the number of signs that you put on your yard,” he said. “If I want to support 20 candidates and I want to put 20 signs in my front yard, I don’t think we have the ability to prevent someone from doing that.”
Along with revising, replacing – and in some cases, eliminating – various Signage and Public Displays elements, the new version includes user-friendly charts to help an inquisitive township resident “quickly understand which zoning district I’m in, what sign type I’m potentially wanting to put up, and then what are the basic-level regulations for those types of signs,” Koons said.
The proposed ordinance to repeal the existing Signage and Public Displays section, and replace it with the updated document, has been recommended by the township planning commission for council’s approval. A vote will be scheduled for a future meeting.