Sign Wars Part 2 - Inside the City Limits
Most battles in our Sign Wars are going to be fought inside city, corporate limits. Cities of course are self-governing political entities and have the power to pass laws, called ordinances, that regulate all sorts of activity within the city limits. One common type of ordinance that most cities of almost any size have is a sign ordinance.
As a county chair or volunteer you will want to read and understand your city's sign ordinance in detail. Knowing what is permitted and what is not is key to taking on offensive political signs. Where can you find your sign ordinance? It is contained in the Code of Municipal Ordinances kept by your city government. Many are now available online on your city's website. If your city does not have a website or does not post the code of ordinances on its website, then you should call your city clerk or city attorney and ask where you can obtain a copy of the sign ordinance. As each city' ordinance is different we will use an example of a smaller city within The 134. We chose Mineral Wells as our example. You can view Mineral Wells Code of Ordinances online. The sign ordinances are found under Chapter 6 Advertising and Signs
Mineral Wells Sign Ordinance
In every sign ordinance there is usually a section that relates to political signs. In Mineral Wells ordinance it is found in the section regulating Temporary Signs, Sec. 6.33(g). It reads as follows:
(g) Political and/or ideological signs: This sign regulation does not prohibit a sign to be placed, require a permit or approval of the city, impose a fee for the sign to be placed, restrict the size of a sign, or provide for a charge for the removal of a sign that is greater than the charge for removal of other signs regulated by this chapter for any sign that contains primarily a political and/or ideological message and that is located on private property with the consent of the property owner.
However, no political and/or ideological sign shall exceed the following criteria:
(1) No permit application, permit or fee is required for this sign.
(2) Political and/or ideological signs are permitted in all zoning districts.
(3) The sign shall not exceed an effective area greater than 36 feet.
(4)The sign shall not be higher than eight feet.
(5) The sign shall not be illuminated nor have any moving elements.
(6) In addition, this item, (g) political and/or ideological signs, does not apply to a sign, including a billboard, that contains primarily a political and/or ideological message on a temporary basis and that is generally available for rent or purchase to carry commercial advertising or other messages that are not primarily political and/or ideological.
As you see there are not a lot of limitations on political signs in this section. It cannot be illuminated, have any moving elements, cannot be higher than 8 feet and cannot exceed an effective area of 36 feet. To calculate the area of a sign you generally multiply the length by the width. For an area of 36 feet a sign would be approximately 7'X 5' and some inches.
Some cities have additional requirements in their sign ordinance as to size, color and even the period of time before and after an election in which a political sign can be placed. Some also regulate offensive language and vulgarity on signs. These can sometimes raise First Amendment issues, but you should look to see if your city has any provisions like these. Mineral Wells does not have those sorts of limitation in this section. But there are other sign regulations in the ordinance. They are found in the General Regulations section, 6.31. We will highlight just a few of the provisions that can apply to political signs, just like they apply to any other sign.
Sec. 6-31. - General regulations. (b) Setback limitation: There shall be a separation of ten feet between freestanding signs. In addition, no part of any sign shall overhang the property line into the public right-of-way or into the adjacent property.
The first one is the setback limitation. The separation of ten feet between free standing signs may not apply to temporary political signs, but the restriction that no part of the sign shall overhang the property line into the right of way or the adjacent property does. Most people are sloppy when placing a sign or don't know the rules so signs overhanging onto adjacent property or placed in the right of way are common.
Public safety is always a big concern and a regulation that can be used effectively. Visibility for traffic is important and that can be used to challenge signs, particularly large signs placed close to a street or intersection.
(c) Street visibility triangle: No sign or other advertising structure shall be erected in the 25 feet by 25 feet visibility triangle at the intersection of two streets. The street visibility triangle is formed by the property lines and a diagonal line connecting them at points 25 feet from the intersection of the property lines. Any sign projecting into the visibility triangle shall have a clearance of at least ten feet above the centerline grades of the intersecting streets.
(d) Driveway visibility triangle: No sign or other advertising structure shall be erected in the seven feet by 60 feet visibility triangle at the intersection of a driveway with a street. The driveway visibility triangle is formed by the property line, the edge of the driveway and a diagonal line connecting a point seven feet along the edge of driveway from the right-of-way and a point 60 feet along the right-of-way line from the edge of driveway. Any sign projecting into the visibility triangle shall have a clearance of at least ten feet above the centerline grades of the intersecting streets.
(e)Traffic hazard: No sign shall be erected at any location where, by reason of the position, shape or color it may interfere with, obstruct the view of, or be confused with any authorized traffic sign or signal device; or which makes use of the words "stop", "go", "caution", "look", "danger", or any other word, phrase, symbol or character in such a manner as to interfere with, mislead or confuse traffic. Nor shall any person or individual (hawker) carry a temporary sign adjacent to or in a public right-of-way.
(f) Pedestrian hazard: All signs or other advertising structures, which are erected at any point where pedestrians might be endangered, shall have a smooth surface and no nails, tacks or wires shall be permitted to protrude therefrom.
All of these relate to public and traffic safety and can be effectively used to force signs to be removed completely or at least relocated. When a sign is in violation of a city ordinance you should contact city hall. Most cities have a code enforcement department. If not, there is some department or employee of the city that performs this function. File your complaint and then the code enforcement officers should do the rest. In many cases you can also ask for the complaint to be made anonymous so as to not disclose the name of the person who made the complaint. Code enforcement will go by the location, examine the sign and its placement and determine whether there is a violation. If there is, the city will usually ask the owner to remove or relocate the sign. If the owner fails to comply the owner can be issued a citation and fined.
As we discussed last time, the key to pushing back on overzealous and offensive sign placement is constant diligence and a thorough knowledge of the rules.
If you have questions about sign issues, contact us and let us know how we can be of help.