Signs flagged for review

Published 11:07 pm Thursday, October 13, 2011

This sign for a yard sale near the entrance to the Kilby Shores neighborhood is one of the types of signs prohibited under the city’s sign ordinance because it is in the public right-of-way. Such signs are typically called “snipe signs.”

City leaders have asked the Planning Commission to take another look at the city’s sign ordinances.

The issue has been an ongoing topic since May, when the owners of Tidewater Carpet Connection on Godwin Boulevard complained at a City Council meeting that they had been singled out for enforcement of the ordinance that prohibits temporary signs and banners without a permit.

Owners Patricia and Steve Orr had put some tall flags behind the building advertising their products, since only the rear of the building is visible from the main thoroughfare. But a city staff member soon informed them that the flags would have to come down, because they are not permitted under the Unified Development Ordinance.

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The UDO allows business owners to purchase a permit to display temporary signs and banners to market their business. The permit costs $100 and is good for 30 days, but only three such permits per year can be issued to a single business.

To business owner and City Councilman Mike Duman, that’s a problem.

“It’s a matter of being able to market your business,” said Duman, an auto dealership owner, noting that marketing doesn’t happen just three times a year. “Most of the time, it’s the ongoing attempts every day to market your business.”

Planning Director Scott Mills proposed some changes to the sign ordinance during the City Council retreat, such as reducing the permit fee to $50.

“We think we could reduce that fee,” he said. “We do want to allow businesses to celebrate grand openings.”

The City Council also covered other types of signs during their retreat, including so-called “snipe signs.”

Snipe signs are signs that are placed in the public right-of-way along roads, or attached to fences, trees, telephone poles or other public property. They usually advertise yard sales, credit repair, “ugly house” purchases or other similar “businesses.” They are always prohibited, and city crews take them down whenever they see them, Mills said.

“They’re like mushrooms,” he said. “They just sprout up.”

Councilman Jeff Gardy had an idea for the snipe signs that could make up for a fee reduction in permits for other signs — fining repeat offenders.

Mills also suggested changing the ordinance to specifically allow corporate flags, which are usually flown along with the American and Virginian flags. Corporate flags currently are not specifically addressed in the ordinance, he said.

“I think we need to go back in the code and address those more specifically,” he said.

The matter will be taken up by the Planning Commission’s ordinance committee, then by the full commission, then again by City Council.