Officials hashing out details of sign ordinance

Published 12:40 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2017

City and county officials are trying to hash through the details to bring the sign ordinance in line with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The 2015 ruling specifies municipal sign ordinances must be “content neutral,” and regulations must not be based on the content of the sign, such as political signs or church signs.

Tuesday evening, the Winchester Board of Commissioners and Winchester Planning Director Robert Jeffries discussed a proposed amendment to the joint ordinance at length, but took no action.

The amendment would remove content-specific language and amend sections about projecting signs and signs for closed businesses.

“We can’t put additional restrictions based on content,” Jeffries said.

The proposed amendment removes language concerning election or political signs, but allows for temporary signs of up to 8 square feet with specific dates coinciding with primaries and elections. The current ordinance specifically mentions political signs being allowed no earlier than 30 days prior to a primary or election and being removed no more than five days after.

It also removes language concerning temporary signs from public utilities or construction companies. Where the current ordinance allows such signs “to warn of danger or hazardous conditions…” the amendment would only say “in the performance of their professional duties.”

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said he received one suggestion about extending the dates for election-related signs to coordinate with absentee voting,

“We’re going to see more and more early voting,” he said.

Jeffries said he could explore changing the dates, along with other suggestions, and bring it back to the city and county for a first reading. The Clark County Fiscal Court approved a first reading last week, but may have to do so again if there are amendments.

Going content-neutral would also remove any language about offensive content. When Commissioner Rick Beach raised the question, City Attorney Bill Dykeman said it would be protected as free speech. It could be a situation where the police would be contacted, Jeffries said, or other officials could simply talk to those involved and resolve the situation.

The other significant change gives business owners 45 days to remove a sign from  a closed business upon receipt of a notice from the city. If it involves a painted sign, the owner would have to paint over it. With lighted signs, the owner would have to remove the panels, he said.

The amendment would also allow projecting signs in areas zoned B-2, with specific dimensions, in lieu of permanent sidewalk signs.

In other business, the commissioners:

— appointed Todd Blanton to a one-year term on the Winchester Licensing Board.

— declared two ambulances as surplus property.

— awarded a contract to Haggard Construction to demolish a structure at 9 Cook Ave. Haggard submitted the low bid of $5,850.

— accepted the resignation of Joshua McFarland from the Winchester Police Department.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@bluegrassnewsmedia.com or call 859-759-0051.

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