City says enforcement of sign ordinance not a priority

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Illegally placed signs for businesses have grown in numbers, while enforcement of the ordinance prohibiting them in the City of Liberty Hill still lags behind. (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

As highways slow through Liberty Hill, colorful clusters of signs dot the intersections and straightaways. Some are even posted on telephone poles at stepladder height. In bold letters on corrugated plastic, they advertise everything from new real estate to garage sales, fitness courses, RV parks and banking services.

But although yard signs like these are technically against both city ordinance and state law, officials say enforcement is not a high priority, and a new city effort in the works may soon re-direct many into legal channels.

The majority, said City Administrator Greg Boatright in a recent City Council meeting, advertise new real estate in the area, and their recent uptick can be attributed to the explosion of development.

Boatright said that he had recently counted over 165 of the signs, which city ordinances list as potentially creating traffic hazards and threatening the “overall appearance and economic value of the landscape.”

Council passed a measure in the meeting that would allow the city to begin talks with local landowners to have “plaza signs” put up. These permanent bulletin board-like installations would allow real estate signs to be swapped in and out, potentially undercutting the incentive for some of the real estate signs.

In city codes already, real estate signs — commonly referred to as “bandit signs” — are allowed on weekends. They can be put up on Friday at the earliest, but must be taken down by Monday morning. The signs are often referred to as “bandit signs” because they appear on public right-of-way as opposed to private property, most cities have ordinances prohibiting or regulating them.

Some cities, such as San Antonio, designate bandit signs as “abandoned trash” at the moment of their posting. State law was amended in 2007 to allow a $500-1000 fine for those who put up unregulated signs on the right-of-way on public highways.

After the City of Liberty Hill’s last dedicated code enforcement officer was terminated last year, the task of removing signs of any kind has largely fallen by the wayside. Real estate signs, along with other types, remain up throughout the week.

The law also empowers law enforcement and authorized volunteers to dispose of the signs.

Liberty Hill police continue the nominal enforcement of the ordinance, though Chief Maverick Campbell said that it is typically limited only to egregious violators, such as those that would be posted on stop signs, or that might block viewing at an intersection.

Campbell also said that though they have had to remove signs like this in the past, but not recently, because “either [they] have not been observed or because other ordinance violations, such as imminent public safety concerns have taken priority.”

Some bandit sign posters have begun putting their signs up high on telephone poles, which can only be reached with a stepladder, making a possible removal even more difficult and time-intensive.

The signs are popular for home-based or small businesses that find them to be an inexpensive and easy way to advertise. Many websites are available that sell the signs in bulk at a rate of $2-3 per sign.

The Independent called several numbers on bandit signs throughout town. Each of the sign owners said they were unaware that there was any ordinance or law against the signs.

Police and city officials expressed doubt about their claim.

Waylon@LHIndependent.com

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