LaGrange council votes to update, simplify sign ordinance

Published 9:07 pm Friday, June 29, 2018

The LaGrange City Council voted 4-2 in favor of an updated sign ordinance on Tuesday.

Council members Jim Arrington, Willie Edmondson, Nathan Gaskin and LeGree McCamey voted in favor. Council members Tom Gore and Mark Mitchell voted against.

The new sign ordinance is shorter than the ordinance that was passed in 1998, and City Planner Leigh Threadgill has said previously that staff aimed to make the ordinance easier to understand and enforce. The new sign ordinance also resolves some wording that could be deemed legally questionable following recent court decisions that prohibit anything that could be interpreted as dictating content. The sign ordinance itself has been under discussion for more than a year, with the council debating the line between regulation that protect businesses and regulation that hurts businesses.

That middle line fell under scrutiny one last time on Tuesday, as the city council heard concerns from former council member Bobby Traylor. Traylor’s concerns centered on a sign recently installed at Traylor’s Jewelry & Pawn, which has run into problems with both current and proposed regulations.

“We aren’t asking for special privileges. We aren’t asking for the moon,” Traylor said. “We would just like a variance that we can use our sign to advertise our products.”

The sign in question is an electronic sign attached to the side of Traylor’s Jewelry & Pawn. The sign is not allowed at its current location under the ordinance that was adopted in 1998 or the ordinance that was adopted Tuesday, due to a section that limits the type of signs that can be shown on neighborhood commercial (C-1) property. The sign would be allowable under general commercial zoning (C-3), though a variance would be required in order for it to be displayed on the wall instead of as a free-standing sign.

Several council members have asked what can be done to allow for this type of signage since it was initially brought to the council’s attention two weeks ago, and the answer provided on how to make that possible was simple, though it would still take several months to go through the process.

“What I’m hearing from the council is that the council does not want to cause you problems, but it doesn’t really affect the new ordinance,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “The issue is you are going to have to apply to rezone the property. That takes about 90 days. Then you are going to have to apply for a variance which takes another 30 days. These are statutory requirements of public hearings, readings and going through planning and zoning. So, the best solution is to start quickly.”

According to City Manager Meg Kelsey, Traylor will not have to take the sign down during the process, but how often the sign can change will be limited to once a day until it can be permitted.

“We are trying to make the ordinance easier to read and more enforceable and also improve the aesthetics,” Kelsey said. “There are also a couple of legal things that we need to correct [in the old ordinance] that we have to do.”

The legal corrections regarded the types of signs allowed and for how long. The 1998 ordinance allowed designations like realty signs and campaign signs, while the ordinance passed on Tuesday uses more general terms like temporary signage to avoid any accusations of regulating content. The LaGrange City Council is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, July 10 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.