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Thread: Sign codes: does this look like unconstitutional regulation of content?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Sign codes: does this look like unconstitutional regulation of content?

    Some local businesses have asked for a seasonal provision to the sign code that allows non-durable signs to fly during certain months of the year when tourist traffic is low. The commission supports the idea and recommended a standardized 'open' flag that businesses can fly at certain times. Aesthetically, I think its a great idea, but I wonder about the constitutionality.

    If the request goes through, it would allow for one banner per business...all banners would have to be identical using a pre-approved design (the banners would likely be bought in bulk and provided to the businesses). To me this seems like putting commercial speech on a pedestal and also a perhaps illegal regulation of content. Perhaps the counter argument is that all parties still can develop signs in conformance with our general sign code.

    Anyone have any insight? We don't have an attorney on staff and I figure the real-life experience of Cyburbians would be valuable.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    You should be able to regulate the aesthetic, as long as you dont reglate the message.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    The way you describe it, I don't see any major issues.

    Who would challenge it anyways? Other businesses in other parts of the community?
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  4. #4
    Dan Staley's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by progmac View post

    To me this seems like putting commercial speech on a pedestal and also a perhaps illegal regulation of content. Perhaps the counter argument is that all parties still can develop signs in conformance with our general sign code.

    Anyone have any insight? We don't have an attorney on staff and I figure the real-life experience of Cyburbians would be valuable.
    Nah. Nothing different in here than in any other dicta. Same old sign issue, just in different (Santa) clothes.

  5. #5
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    The way you describe it, I don't see any major issues.

    Who would challenge it anyways? Other businesses in other parts of the community?
    That looks like regulation of design, not content. Looks fine to me.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by progmac View post
    The commission supports the idea and recommended a standardized 'open' flag that businesses can fly at certain times. Aesthetically, I think its a great idea, but I wonder about the constitutionality.

    If the request goes through, it would allow for one banner per business...all banners would have to be identical using a pre-approved design (the banners would likely be bought in bulk and provided to the businesses).
    I agree with the other posters, it's regulating design, not content, and therefore should be ok.

    I guess I wonder about having all signs be identical rather than diverse based on the business. I guess it's about what look you are trying to go for; I don't know that I have a preference either way, but wonder if identical signs would look too 'cookie cutter'. It makes me think of cities up north (MI) that require a 'Swiss" theme on their new buildings for consistency and branding purposes, and in reality, it kind of looks ridiculous IMHO. I know thats a lot bigger scale than small temporary signs though.... Just a thought....

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Tom R's avatar
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    Trademarks

    Quote Originally posted by Chet View post
    You should be able to regulate the aesthetic, as long as you dont reglate the message.
    Beware of requirements that would result in altering registered trademarks. You will get into trouble if you require the Blockbuster sign to be a green ticket rather than the blue one.
    WALSTIB

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    I can see a business that wants to put some other message on the banner challenging it as a regulation of content. If the "Open" banner is OK, why not
    "Adu1t Books"?

    One way around it might be to make them "municipal signs." You do have an exemption in your sign code for municipal signs, don't you?

    We did a similar thing at a time when we had the main road through town all torn up. I had a bunch of banner printed up that said "Shopping Zone" in big letters and "Otisville Planning Department" in small letters on it. We made them available to anyone in the affected area. Scored PR points with the businesses and addressed some of theor concerns about visibility during the construction.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    I can see a business that wants to put some other message on the banner challenging it as a regulation of content. If the "Open" banner is OK, why not
    "Adu1t Books"?

    One way around it might be to make them "municipal signs." You do have an exemption in your sign code for municipal signs, don't you?
    I like this idea. Unfortunately, the only exemption for municipal signs is very specifics -- "Governmental signs to control traffic or for other regulatory purposes [are exempt]...."

    That is the closest we've got, which probably isn't good enough. But we could broaden the language to allow other municipal signs and thereby get around the content regulation concern.

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