Sign Ordinance Changes will Take Time

By CYNTHIA KMETT

Just to be perfectly clear, if there are sign sizes you don’t like, they’re not coming down if a new sign ordinance passes. You may be hoping the city can just make the 200-square-foot billboards go away – they can’t. They were erected in compliance with Troy’s sign ordinance at the time permits were applied for, and can stay where they are for the next ten years. Besides, the company has sued the city to install the three signs that got caught in the moratorium on signs, claiming their civil rights are being denied.

Those signs were the motivation for the city to look at the sign ordinance in first place. Some residents claimed they would be an unsafe distraction that would ruin the neighborhood and cause accidents. The city, however, was having another sign problem. It seems that when it added some new zoning districts in the 2011 Master Plan and new ordinances to match that created form-based zones and neighborhood notes, the sign rules and the zoning districts no longer matched. This was the opportunity to clear up what signs can go where, and how big they can be.

But it isn’t just the sign’s size that is a problem, it is the “electronic messaging” on a growing number of signs. Troy already has a rule that the message has to stay on at least a minute, so that’s not the problem. It’s the brightness.

The committee looking into the signage revisions was assisted by consultants Carlisle-Wartman and Hubbell, Roth & Clark, which assisted staff in doing a study on the impact of digital signs. Dick Carlisle explained to city council how they had researched industry and commercial standards in deciding how to measure the brightness of digital signs. He warned council that any rules they set have to be “reasonable, defensible and enforceable.”

Then they took a sampling of brightness from 14 signs, from the billboards to a local church and compared the results. The billboards were all within the standards set. Which sign was the brightest and not within the standard? No surprise to Rochester Road travelers, Lady Jane’s.

The goal of the new rules will be for signs not to be too bright, not do any strange changes, not to have audio, no flashing and to be adjustable if found to be too bright. Non-compliant signs would have to be brought into compliance or would be ticketed, with penalties rising as the number of infractions increased.

The size of digital signage would be limited to 50 square feet.

That prompted Councilwoman Ellen Hodorek to say she doesn’t want any business owner to be allowed to put a 50-square-foot sign on their property that isn’t for the business so they can make a little extra money. Those are called “off-premise” signs, like the billboard examples. Mayor Dane Slater seemed to wholeheartedly agree, asking why don’t we just prohibit all off-premise advertising. He wanted to insert it right then into the proposed new ordinance. He did not say if it was for all signs or just digital signage.

City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm, however, said it would need specific wording to be effective. And, she will return with that option on October 8.

No one asked what would happen to all the off-premise signs out there now, like at the Scottish Hall where it used to be a Holiday Inn sign until that hotel closed and now that sign is up for grabs. Would those old signs get grandfathered into existence forever? Or can they, too, get some kind of sunset? Real estate directional signs have been used for years to get you to a new subdivision, and they didn’t seem to cause any crashes.

More discussion in two weeks, stay tuned.

In other business, the search for a city manager is moving ahead. On October 8, council will hold a closed session to look over the candidates GovHR thinks fit the city’s criteria for a new manager. They can then select the candidates they would like to interview. That will be done in an open forum, but no names until the interview process is set. In fact, the council won’t know who the candidates are until after the screening process and selection is completed.