John Scarffe, Nederland. The Nederland Board of Trustees took up signs and debated revised codes during a regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7, 2017, at the Nederland Community Center. Mayor Pro-Tem Charles Wood conducted the meeting in the absence of Mayor Kristopher Larsen and without a Town administrator, while the search continues for a new administrator following the resignation of Alisha Reis.
Due to the earlier U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision, Reed v. Gilbert, the Board reviewed its current sign code at the October 18, 2016, meeting. After a full review of the code, several changes were agreed upon by the Board for updates to the Ordinance.
During the October meeting, Town Attorney Carmen Berry told the Board that the recent Supreme Court decision concerning sign codes marks a true shift on how First Amendment rights will be read going forward. “Any kind of content-based regulations are prohibited. It does mark a significant shift. We will see this reverberate in a number of different ways,” Berry said.
Berry provided the Board with a draft of the ordinance with content-neutral codes. “We have to eliminate content but add back a resolution that focuses on the location of the sign, etc.,” Berry said. Berry was also absent from the March 7 meeting.
The Nederland Planning Commission reviewed this issue on September 28, 2016, and voted to forward the sign code, with revisions, to the Board of Trustees. At the March meeting, Wood said the proposed ordinance is now five-and-half months old, and he has spoken with the Town attorney.
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding free speech, you can’t regulate signs based on what the sign says or the nature of the business, Wood said. “The Board didn’t just decide we want to go mess with the sign codes but needed to respond to the Supreme Court, or all of our signs would be illegal.”
The Board’s intent was not to just go in and change the sign code or put businesses at a disadvantage, Wood said. “We’re now revisiting it for the second time for action.”
The revised ordinance states: “The Zoning Administrator is hereby authorized and directed to enforce all provisions of this Article. He or she shall appear for and on behalf of the Town in all matters regarding the interpretation and application of this Article, and shall resist and oppose any deviations from the provisions of this Article and in accordance with other provisions of the law,” according to the ordinance.
The ordinance defines an illegal, nonconforming sign as one in violation of Town laws at the time of its erection, and which sign has never been erected or displayed in conformance with the laws. It includes signs that are pasted, nailed, painted on or otherwise unlawfully displayed upon structures, utility poles, trees, fences and other signs.
A legal, nonconforming sign is one lawfully erected and maintained prior to the enactment of this article and any amendments thereto, and which does not conform to all the applicable regulations and restrictions of this article. This includes signs granted a legal variance to this article.
Nonconforming signs must be brought into conformance or terminate when property ownership changes, when a business changes in use to which the sign pertains, when the copy changes on a sign other than on reader panels, when a request is made for a permit to change the sign, if a sign is destroyed by more than 50 percent, when the location of the sign is moved or altered, according to the ordinance.
Any business or establishment which has existed in the Town longer than 10 years and believes that its sign is of historical or landmark significance may request the Board of Zoning Adjustment to grant a “grandfather variance,” according to the ordinance.
“A grandfather variance shall not supersede any other requirement of this Article except the compliance deadline.”
The ordinance defines a sign site plan as a drawing required from a sign applicant before a sign permit can be issued. The plan contains the location and dimensions of existing and proposed signs, as well as elevation, lettering and illumination of proposed signs. “It is unlawful to display, erect, modify, change, alter or relocate a sign without first filing with the zoning administrator an application in writing and obtaining a sign permit. When a sign permit has been issued, it is unlawful to modify, change, alter or otherwise deviate from the terms or conditions of said permit without prior approval of the Zoning Administrator,” according to the ordinance. A variance from the requirements of the sign code can be filed. The ordinance regulates externally lighted signs, which must be lit with downcast lighting.
Internally illuminated signs must avoid concentration of illumination with the maximum wattage for sign illumination at 10 watts per square foot of sign area. Neon signs are allowed only inside buildings and businesses will be allowed more than one neon sign as long as the total square footage of all signs does not exceed six square feet. No flashing, rotating, moving or animated signs, signs with moving lights or signs that create the illusion of movement are permitted.
During public comment, four Nederland business owners expressed concern. Barb Hardt, manager of the Caribou Shopping Center, said the ordinance reads to her that most of the signs at the shopping center are oversized, and the Town administrator can remove them. Their marquis sign is within 10 feet of the road. The Center’s LED lighting also would not be in compliance.
Doug Armitage, of Brightwood Music, said his business has “open” blinking signs highlighted in yellow. “Is there something from the Supreme Court that says I can’t have a lighted, blinking sign?”
Wood replied that the ordinance was not intended to change anything existing, and Trustee Stephanie Miller said flashing signs are grandfathered in, including the electronic sign at the bank.
Ron Mitchell objected to items in the code, and said if you have a dispute with the Town, you still have to pay the town. “I find that egregious.”
He is also concerned about the temporary sign regulations. He has temporary signs at his parking lot next to the Rocky Mountain Oyster Bar. The ordinance should allow more latitude for people to do things without filing a site plan. “It’s very cumbersome.”
Jim Graves with the Train Cars said he has concerns about murals. They are historical train cars and the murals were part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild Circus. He would be very concerned if he had to take those down. The Board decided to allow murals.
Trustee Dallas Masters said: “We’re not here tonight trying to change the old code other than what the Supreme Court had issues with. I do see Barb’s issues about current signs at the Shopping Center.”
Nonconforming signs can exist until a change in ownership or a change of a sign, and that’s when the new code would kick in, Masters said. If the shopping center changes signs, the new code would kick in. They have taken out language about what you can put on a mural.
Trustee Julie Gustafson addressed Mitchell’s concern about temporary signs and said there won’t be a sign patrol. Donahue said special event signs may be permitted, but they can’t be specific about what kind of sign is allowed.
Gustafson pointed out that signs must be designed and constructed to withstand wind. Knowing we have such a politically active community and use signs regularly, you can put up political signs and you can put whatever you want on them, so it’s a little less restrictive.
Donahue said the Board should pass it tonight and work on it later. Special events signs are crossed out, but it doesn’t mean we don’t allow them. The motion passed, with Wood voting against it.
The revised wording for the ordinance states: Temporary signs may be permitted and shall be allowed to be displayed a maximum of 30 consecutive days from the date installed, provided that such signs are taken down no later than one week after the conclusion of the advertised event.” Baur said Berry will be reviewing the proposed edits before executing the ordinance.
The Board met on March 21. The next meeting of the Nederland Board of Trustees will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4, at the Nederland Community Center.