Council puts off sign ordinance

Published 10:54 pm Friday, August 17, 2012

The City Council on Wednesday delayed a decision on a revamped sign ordinance until next month, giving itself a chance to process new suggestions by some of its members.

It also left the public hearing on the matter open, allowing for new comments to be lodged during the Sept. 19 meeting.

The city’s ordinances that govern banners and signs have been targeted for improvements for the past year. It has been the topic of numerous sessions of the Planning Commission and its ordinance committee, and city staff have visited business groups including the Chamber of Commerce, Tidewater Builders Association and Downtown Business Association.

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A slew of changes were recommended, including specifically permitting corporate and decorative flags, extending special-events sign permits from 21 to 30 days, allowing businesses to have a banner and making special allowances for residential subdivisions to advertise their homes for sale.

The allowances for subdivisions would include signs and so-called “wind-driven” flags to attract attention at each entrance, as well as directional signs to the sales office and model homes.

Other changes were recommended by City Council members. Mike Duman said he would favor allowing churches and nonprofit organizations the same right to have banners and requiring annual renewal of the banner permit for everyone.

Two speakers during the public hearing were on opposite sides of the issue. Claudia Cotton, staff vice president for the Builder Services Division of the Tidewater Builders Association, said the group appreciates the changes but suggested others, including allowing banners on model homes, expanding the allowed size of directional signs and permitting temporary A-frame signs at subdivision entrances.

Tom Woodward, a Main Street resident, said there should be no changes to the ordinance.

“Reasonable people are satisfied,” he told the City Council. He called wind-driven flags “the bane of my existence” because he fears a woman driving an SUV would be distracted by them.

“I’m interested in the quality of life in Suffolk,” he said, implying that the Tidewater Builders Association and Chamber of Commerce are not.

Duman said he believes the changes will address a perceived problem with selective enforcement that put the issue on the radar. With some things specifically permitted, there will be less ambiguity to police, he said.

The issue will be taken up again on Sept. 19.