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Thread: Restricting paint colors in a municipal code

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Restricting paint colors in a municipal code

    My neighbors are up in arms about the bright orange paint that has been applied to a commercial building in the neighborhood. The grade of the paint is also rather cheap. The councilperson for the area cited the First Amendment, but I don't think restricting paint color could ever be considered unconstitutional. Is anyone familiar with existing codes elsewhere that could apply?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Restricting colors is not unconstitutional, period. Courts routinely have held aesthetics to be a legitimate government interest, and the color of paint has nothing to do with freedom of expression (what message is being "suppressed" based on orange paint color???). This is no different than regulating the size of signage.

    Don't have an example of such an ordinance though.
    In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. (Douglas Adams)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    From Otisville's standards for a particular commercial node:

    Color. Color schemes should be simple and coordinated over the entire building to establish a sense of overall composition. Color schemes should tie together signs, ornamentation, awnings, canopies and entrances. There shall be no more than one base color for each 25 horizontal feet of the front elevation; one base color for the entire front elevation is preferred. Using only one or two accent colors is also preferred, except where precedent exists for using more than two colors with some architectural styles (e.g., arts and crafts). Natural wood finishes are appropriate for doors, window sashes and trim, signs, canopies and other architectural accents. Luminescent, sparkling, neon and “day-glow” colors are not allowed (e.g., outlining building), except that neon signs are allowed subject to applicable sign codes. Metals shall be brushed finish or painted in mute or earth tones to minimize glare.

  4. #4
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Aesthetics can be regulated. Lots of courts have supported that. Just look at the Behr or Valspar paint sections they are full of "Cherryville Yellow" and "Old Vienna White" based on neighborhood colors.

    Personally, I think that you shouldn't do this, but I guess I also think that if you didn't want to live next to someone that you didn't have control over you would either a. buy all the lots around you, or b. move to the country.

    We don't regulate tacky. And I am glad we don't.
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post

    Personally, I think that you shouldn't do this, but I guess I also think that if you didn't want to live next to someone that you didn't have control over you would either a. buy all the lots around you, or b. move to the country.

    We don't regulate tacky. And I am glad we don't.
    One of my previous towns gave us some fun entertainment when the conservative population was up in arms over the way a restaurant painted their building. The outcry over regulatin' the paint colors was precious. Regulation for thee but not for me...

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    We restrict colors in our historic district, but it is something I am tremendously uncomfortable with. In my experience, I've found many folks on boards have misconceptions about historic colors and are prone to legislating personal taste. The Constitutionality of regulating based on aesthetics is without question--I know that is valid. My concerns emerge when you start considering the "arbitrary and capricious" question. Color is highly subjective and prone to abuse by boards and even councils as a way to simply stop a locally-unwanted use.

    If you go down that road, you need to create some good guidelines that can be referenced in such reviews, and have tight definitions about the colors that are outright prohibited. Not just for you on the review side, but also so the applicant has some measure of confidence and something to reference when designing the project.

    "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)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    We restrict colors for non residential building as part of our general design controls. Some modified language: "Building colors are to be used to facilitate blending into the neighborhood and unify each development. The color shades of building materials shall draw from the range of color shades that already exist in the area or adjacent development."

    We also prohibit the use of high intensity and neon colors.

    Here, its a good thing we restrict colors...it suits this community.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Paint colors are starting to get out of hand. One resident was upset that the Code Compliance department forced her to repair damaged paint that she decided to use a fluorescent yellow-orange that is intentionally hideous and that has helped devalue her neighbors' properties and destabilize her neighborhood.

    The commercial buildings are being painted these colors in order to stand-out with the hope that they will better attract business. A pawn shop, for example, has adopted a high-contrast bright yellow and bright blue scheme that is exceptionally ugly. So, in many cases, these regulations are needed for the same reasons sign ordinances have been adopted.

    I'd like to see something written that will provide as much creative freedom as possible to property owners while ensuring that the end result won't attract crime, devalue properties, destabilize neighborhoods, harm the tax base, etc.

  9. #9
    In my neighborhood, the landmarks commission regulates the color of doors, lintels, mortar, etc. They've made the process a bit less onerous by maintaing a list of pre-approved colors and suppliers, which the local stores have in stock. It helps keep this historic district an architectural gem, but I doubt any other place would put up with level of control. Note that there is still a good amount of renovation and new construction, even in this economy. And the neighbors even pressed a developer to INCREASE density for a new project.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Most jurisdictions where I live do it through design guidelines in some form or another (design guidelines being a stand-alone document, usually not part of the municipal code). Sometimes interpreting compliance with the design guidelines is done by the planning department, other times by community groups. This gives decision-makers the ability and rationale to deny projects when applicants propose things like ugly paint colors.

    I suppose the drawback to design guidelines is that they're generally only enforceable during entitlement/permitting process. They would not prevent a homeowner from painting their house puke green - that sort of thing is usually regulated through an HOA.
    In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. (Douglas Adams)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    One of my previous towns gave us some fun entertainment when the conservative population was up in arms over the way a restaurant painted their building. The outcry over regulatin' the paint colors was precious. Regulation for thee but not for me...
    Ah, yes. "Git da gob'men off our backs!" -- except for those things that we don't like! ROTFLMAO.

    I don't think a community should restrict house or even commercial building colors except in very, very limited ways, primarily in historic districts or to ban classes of colors like fluorescents or metallics that might cause glare or some similar nuisance. Ugly does equal a nuisance, and what you think is ugly, I might consider beautiful.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    I've always gone by this, the inside of the building is done for the tenent, resident, etc, the outside is for the neighborhood/community. So choosing colors that blend into a neighborhood/development is a good thing and better regulated by government or an HOA.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  13. #13
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    I'd like to see something written that will provide as much creative freedom as possible to property owners while ensuring that the end result won't attract crime, devalue properties, destabilize neighborhoods, harm the tax base, etc.
    There are groups here that will paint eyesore open and dangerous houses a hideous orange. That usually gets the City to tear it down right away. This is particularly effective when the building faces a freeway or another arterial.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Retroactively getting a certain aesthetic style (e.g. bright colour paint) banned would be difficult, but if an ordinance was put in place before an application came in I think you would have a good case. The difficulty is deciding on the borderline cases which will always be subjective.

    Are aesthetic ordinances a good idea? If your community has a distinct historic style and you want to maintain the look and feel of the community for economic reasons it's certainly justified. If people just don't want a "modern" house built next to their ranch-style bungalow then it may not be such a good idea.


    Also: http://maps.google.ca/maps?hl=en&ll=...82.88,,0,-5.42

  15. #15
    Member
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    regulation of exterior colors

    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    My neighbors are up in arms about the bright orange paint that has been applied to a commercial building in the neighborhood. The grade of the paint is also rather cheap. The councilperson for the area cited the First Amendment, but I don't think restricting paint color could ever be considered unconstitutional. Is anyone familiar with existing codes elsewhere that could apply?
    Fifth Avenue South Special Overlay District, naples, florida:
    Exterior Colors: Exterior building shall be white or colored in the cream to coral range. Trim shall be white. Doors, shop fronts, window frames and shutters shall be any color at any saturation. Buildings in single ownership shall be of uniform facade and trim color unless there are architectural elements such as pilasters or engaged columns or a change in the plane of the facade defining the separate tenant spaces.

    was on the committee that administered the design control regulations in this district for many years. Please ask should you have any questions.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Plus Salmissra's avatar
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    Like 'burb fixer, we regulate colors in our historic districts.

    1) no metallic paint or paint colors
    2) no flourescent colors
    3) all structures must have a dominant color (for those that have wood siding - obviously not the same for brick material) and then depending on the specific district, up to 4 trim/accent colors
    4) gutters and downspouts must be of a color that matches or complements the color scheme of the structure
    5) roof colors must complement the style and overall color scheme of the structure
    6) the use and color of stain must be typical of the style and period of the structure
    7) color schemes for non-masonry elements should conform to any available documentation as to historic color (this line item is in our most restrictive historic overlay, but thankfully not in the recent ones)
    8) the colors of a structure must be complimentary to each other and the overall character of the district. Complimenting color schemes are encouraged through the blockface

    And one district even dictates that porch columns must be painted white or a light color. We allow a wider variety of colors for historic commercial sites, and also the row of Victorians in one district. For the most part, we don't have problems with people's color choices. Every now and then, though, we get a "lively" trim choice, or someone who really wants that dark magenta color as a dominant color. Those have to go to Commission. We have way more problems with facade materials than facade colors.
    "We do not need any other Tutankhamun's tomb with all its treasures. We need context. We need understanding. We need knowledge of historical events to tie them together. We don't know much. Of course we know a lot, but it is context that's missing, not treasures." - Werner Herzog, in Archaeology, March/April 2011

  17. #17
    Cyburbian developmentguru's avatar
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    We regulate colors as it relates to historic districts, design overlays for corridors, and along our riverbanks or within a certain distance from it. However, while the historic guidelines list specific approved colors (but quite a variety, I think) some of the others only speak to the colors being muted, earth toned, neutral colors or others if they are consistent and coordinate with the business's signage. Another tack is the urban design review or something similar, with everything over a certain floor area required to go through approval of the elevations, including color.

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