It’s become one of the most discussed topics at City Hall — signs.
The Sedona City Council spent another two and a half hours discussing the matter on Wednesday, July 26. And again, the topic focused on one particular part of the revamped sign code: Those that are considered off-premises.
No action was taken at the meeting. Council will again discuss this matter in September or October. A city report states that the need for an update has been discussed for quite some time, and was identified as a council priority several years ago.
A few months into the update process, the project was put on hold due to a U.S. Supreme Court case involving how cities may regulate signs [Reed v. Town of Gilbert]. Essentially, the court stated that a city cannot regulate signs based on the content of a sign but can regulate such things as location, height, material, lighting, size and function.
The current city code states that the only off-premises signs that are allowed are for garage sales and real estate open houses. But due to the ruling, cities are now faced with an all-or-nothing scenario when it comes to these types of signs.
Council asked if there is a time frame in which the city has to comply with the Supreme Court ruling.
“We recognize that our sign code is no longer compliant with the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, and that changes need to be made,” City Attorney Robert Pickels said following the meeting. “However, there is not a particular sense of urgency until such time as we have reason to believe that our code is being applied in a manner that could violate someone’s constitutional rights.”
At its March 30 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the updated sign code by a 4-2 vote with the majority in favor of banning all off-premises signs. Commissioners Gerhard Mayer and Larry Klein were the dissenting votes. The commissioners were unanimous on the remainder of the code.
City staff is also recommending the banning all off-premise signs. Councilman John Currivan hoped to find something other than the all-or-nothing approach without violating the court ruling.
He provided the council with the following proposals:
- Allow temporary off-premises signs, without regard to content. These signs would have to comply with all regulations relating to temporary signs.
- Require contact information on each sign.
- Prohibit payment or bartering for placement of a sign.
- Prohibit placement of signs on private property without prior written permission. The placer of the sign would have a duty to produce the written permission on request.
- Temporary signs for directing traffic would be allowed in the city right-of-way and on city property with a temporary use permit.
- Placement in ADOT right-of-way would violate Sedona Land Development Code, so city staff could enforce. The recommendation included a possible sunset clause of six months to a year.
“I’ve come up with what I think is a way to find a middle ground because otherwise, we are in effect throwing the baby out with the bath water,” Currivan said. “We don’t want to do that. Let’s find a middle ground and see if there is some way to allow offpremises signs but regulate them so that we won’t have what everybody is really worried about, that being this huge proliferation of signs.”
Some members of council had concerns with Currivan’s suggestions, especially in terms of allowing all signs and then “putting the genie back in the bottle” if in six or 12 months council decides that decision was not a good one.
Councilman Tom Lamkin questioned whether it makes sense to allow all signs — and the potential negative impact — in order to keep those promoting only garage sales and open houses.
“We’ve been hung up on the past but we need to look at the future and preserve it for everyone, not just two groups,” he said. “We also need to look at the ramifications of that as opposed to the culture of what the city wants based upon the Community Plan, what historic culture has been and the fact that just a small percentage of open houses actually are sold. We may be going against what the citizenry is looking for.”
To that, City Manager Justin Clifton said, “We do think it is very significant to move from a code that prohibits this activity — except [garage sales, open houses] — to any version of a code that allows this activity regardless of content. The question then becomes, are there other conditions like the ones that are proposed that would mitigate the proliferation and find an acceptable balance?”