U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Brings A Temporary Halt To Douglas' Sign Ordinance Work
The City of Douglas has been “thrown a curveball,” Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere told his council Monday referring to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a town sign ordinance in the State of Arizona.
The June 18 ruling comes just as the City of Douglas was preparing to update its local sign ordinance in all districts, including the Blue Star Highway Corridor where, say officials, “visual clutter” of various signage persists along the roadway.
The Supreme Court ruling will now compel the city to pass a temporary moratorium until it can find a model ordinance that it deems appropriate, officials announced at Monday’s meeting.
“This ruling virtually affects every municipality across the country,” noted LeFevere.
“Our ordinance has to be content-neutral. It’s going to really change the way we regulate signs in general,” said LeFevere, referring to conversations he held with the city attorney and urban planning consultant, Lynee Wells.
“Does that mean signs will be allowed to say awful things about people?” asked Douglas City Council Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Hoexter, who said she was concerned about hate speech.
“People say awful things about others, either way,” responded a colleague.
The Supreme Court said the town of Gilbert’s sign ordinance treated signs differently according to the subject matter— including political, ideological and directional signs—thereby violating free speech rights protected under the First Amendment.
It was a small church congregation which challenged the town’s ordinance, arguing it was unfair to limit the church’s directional signs to 6 square feet and only be allowed to display them up to 12 hours before a church service, while political signs, under the town’s regulations, were allowed to be up to 32 square feet in size and be erected any time before the election.
“We are going to wait (and see how this plays out) to model an ordinance we can follow,” said LeFevere, recommending city leaders pass a moratorium in the meantime.
The City of Saugatuck is considering the same move, according to LeFevere. There officials had been mired in legal wrangling with the homeowners at 790 Lake St. over protest signs the owners say is constituted art, but officials deemed unlawful because the number of signs passed the limit allowed.