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Thread: Sign regulation question

  1. #1
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Sign regulation question

    Sign regs can restrict time, place, and manner, but not content.

    If regs say you can have a sign on a given parcel but it must be "identification" type, referring to the "principal use" on the premises, does that constitute a restriction of content?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    That seems to be a content-based limitation.

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    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    I think it depends on what your definitions of "principle use" etc. are. If you're limiting off-premise signage, that's not afoul of the content rule (metromedia decision, I think). If, however, you are implying that the sign copy would be limited to identifying the business and not allowing them to advertise further (for example, "BIG BURGERS" is allowed, but "BIG BURGERS, home of the MEAT-MEISTER" is not) then you have limited content, and thereby speech.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  4. #4
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Below is the section in question.

    "...A business identification sign, either freestanding or attached, not exceeding 32 square feet in area, on which the name and nature of the business operated on the premises as the principal use are shown..."

    A sign trade group "propaganda" paper I have found says restriction of content is inherent by the restriction to identification as a type.

    One nearby locality has given up on this kind of restriction and says a property owner may have one sign whose content refers to activity or use on premise or may refer to a business down the road. No other sign on that parcel may be permitted, though.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    These keep seeming like different uses to me, though. Restricting principle activity only is different than advertising for "a business down the road". Sorry, I may be missing something. Trade publication aside, there is nothing inherently content based about not allowing off-premise advertising everywhere. That's been tested.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    I don't think the quoted text has anything to do with off-premise signs.

    I know of a sign consultant and attorney who says your standards should be written so that your sign enforcement person could be illiterate in English and still be able to enforce the standards. So, I think treating a directional sign differently from a regular on-premise sign is content based. It is very common, though, to have standards for directional signs and I bet they are not challenged too often. same goes for real estate signs. Often, h-frame signs are prohibited, except for residential real estate signs. To become less content-based, the above mentioned consultant has taken to writing standards so that residential uses are allowed one h-frame sign at any given time.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by fringe View post
    Below is the section in question.

    "...A business identification sign, either freestanding or attached, not exceeding 32 square feet in area, on which the name and nature of the business operated on the premises as the principal use are shown..."

    A sign trade group "propaganda" paper I have found says restriction of content is inherent by the restriction to identification as a type.

    One nearby locality has given up on this kind of restriction and says a property owner may have one sign whose content refers to activity or use on premise or may refer to a business down the road. No other sign on that parcel may be permitted, though.

    It's not the quoted text but the references afterward. A locality gave up on "this kind of restriction" and is allowing signs on parcels referring to businesses "down the road". That's off-premise signage, isn't it? I've written an allowance for special events, real estate, and new developments into my temporary sign regulations, but they're temporary.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ursus View post
    If you're limiting off-premise signage, that's not afoul of the content rule (metromedia decision, I think). If, however, you are implying that the sign copy would be limited to identifying the business and not allowing them to advertise further (for example, "BIG BURGERS" is allowed, but "BIG BURGERS, home of the MEAT-MEISTER" is not) then you have limited content, and thereby speech.
    This is correct. You can distinguish between on-premise and off-premise signage, and regulate materials, size/bulk, placement, height, illumination, animation or lack of, number of signs, maintenance, and so on. However, limiting "items of information" (number of words and symbols), common in more progressive sign codes from a decade or two ago, is no longer kosher. Time restriction for political signs versus general personal opinion signs not related to an election is also questionable.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Ursus. You're right. I didn't read closely enough.

    I think City staff and the general public often want to tie political signs to an election. When the sign is related to saving the whales, there is no specific election to tie it to. When the sign is related to a City Council race, there is. But that makes a content distinction so political signs should not be tied to an election. But then you run the risk of being left with irrelevant signs for an election that has already happened. If no one removes them you have to wait til they become dilapidated. My city still requires that the election-related signs be removed so many days after the election, regardless of whether that's a content thing or not.
    Last edited by Lyburnum; 27 May 2010 at 11:13 AM. Reason: typo

  10. #10
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Thanks for the replies.

    ursus said: "...A locality gave up on "this kind of restriction" and is allowing signs on parcels referring to businesses "down the road". That's off-premise signage, isn't it?..."

    Exactly. Said locality, whose ordinance was written by a sign lawyer, takes the position that restricting a sign to on-site info is restricting content.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lyburnum View post
    But then you run the risk of being left with irrelevant signs for an election that has already happened. If no one removes them you have to wait til they become dilapidated.
    I've recently seen yard signs for Sen. Paul Wellstone in Minnesota and he died in 2002.

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    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    I've recently seen yard signs for Sen. Paul Wellstone in Minnesota and he died in 2002.
    I know I shouldn't, but I find that so funny that it's awesome!

    Fringe, good luck with all that, it's a sick world we're trying to plan.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  13. #13
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    This from a GA zoning association mtg in 2/10, in a lawyer's presentation:

    Sign Ordinances

    - Any sign ordiance which distinguishes between "off-premise" and "on-premise" signs violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Free Speech Clause of the GA Constitution.

    - Having a time limit on political signs prior to and/or after an election is unconstitutional.

    - Sign Ordinance must have a statement of purpose to satisfy the "substantial government interest' requirement under federal law.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by fringe View post
    This from a GA zoning association mtg in 2/10, in a lawyer's presentation:
    Sign Ordinances
    - Any sign ordiance which distinguishes between "off-premise" and "on-premise" signs violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Free Speech Clause of the GA Constitution.
    - Having a time limit on political signs prior to and/or after an election is unconstitutional.
    - Sign Ordinance must have a statement of purpose to satisfy the "substantial government interest' requirement under federal law.
    I disagree, and I bet I can find a lawyer in GA who also disagrees. The last point is almost true, but there is no federal "law".

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    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    gees, I'm getting away with zoning murder!

    We regulate everything to do with signs here - color, font, lighting, size, the whole shabang!

    not sure I agree with the whole off and in premise signs opinion though...

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    gees, I'm getting away with zoning murder!

    We regulate everything to do with signs here - color, font, lighting, size, the whole shabang!

    not sure I agree with the whole off and in premise signs opinion though...
    And your skepticism of the opinion is well-founded. I'm completely with Gurnee on this. The question about regulating off-premise vs. on-premise has been tested and re-tested and as long as the off-premise signage is advertising something, regulation of it is not a violation of free speech in any way.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by fringe View post
    Below is the section in question.

    "...A business identification sign, either freestanding or attached, not exceeding 32 square feet in area, on which the name and nature of the business operated on the premises as the principal use are shown..."
    AS far as I can see, the above language restricts/dictates content and the following should be struck:
    , on which the name and nature of the business operated on the premises as the principal use are shown
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

  18. #18
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tobinn View post
    AS far as I can see, the above language restricts/dictates content and the following should be struck:
    , on which the name and nature of the business operated on the premises as the principal use are shown
    Thanks for the replies. Tobinn, is not the requirement that the sign be an "identification" sign a restriction of content? (In the ordinance quoted, BTW, "identification sign" is not among the list of definitions) The same ordinance also says very clearly the signs are permitted as "accessory uses", which are clearly defined as uses "customarily incidental or subordinate to the primary use" of the parcel.

    Therefore the permitted sign cannot be advertising an off-site use because it has to be accessory.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Sign drama goes on and on

    Hope I'm not double-posting. We had a weird electricity hiccup and my post was interruped before I could finish and submit--I think.

    My point was that I agree with those who say the legality of on-premise versus off-premise regulation has been tested repeatedly. The common sense approach is to look at the costs and benefits of the regulation to your community. Elsewhere I've argued that if your sign regulation is struck down, at least you may have prevented some visual pollution for awhile. Of course, if it's your town potentially paying the legal bill, weigh how much is to be gained through the regulation, versus the potential legal cost. If you will be impacting many businesses, be certain that what you're doing is necessary.

    Sign regulation is becoming so contentious it might be worth trying to build consensus among business owners, at least within a particular district or strip. I think usually the reason that signs get out of hand is that business owners feel they must compete for attention with the next guy. Maybe everyone can call a truce. If sign regulation gets to be too controversial, some voluntary restraints along a commercial street would save everyone money.

    I know, I know, it's hard to get unanimous support of anything nowadays, but some creative planner somewhere should give it a try.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by fringe View post
    Thanks for the replies. Tobinn, is not the requirement that the sign be an "identification" sign a restriction of content? (In the ordinance quoted, BTW, "identification sign" is not among the list of definitions) The same ordinance also says very clearly the signs are permitted as "accessory uses", which are clearly defined as uses "customarily incidental or subordinate to the primary use" of the parcel.

    Therefore the permitted sign cannot be advertising an off-site use because it has to be accessory.
    Good point - I would also strike the portion that says, 'business identification" and leave it as just "sign".
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

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