Commission recommends immediate changes to City’s sign ordinance

Signs along SH 29 in Liberty Hill.

Signs along SH 29 in Liberty Hill.

Signs along SH 29 in Liberty Hill.

The newly appointed chairman of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission urged fellow appointees this week to adopt six changes to the sign ordinance that he said will provide relief for local businesses and encourage new growth.

Clyde Davis, a local real estate broker, chaired his first meeting of the Commission Tuesday — one day after a Town Hall Meeting where business owners expressed frustration about the recent enforcement of a sign ordinance. In presenting  his proposed changes, he noted repeatedly that Council members had requested the Commission bring forward the recommendations for Council approval. Once approved by Council, they would take effect immediately.

“I say leave our businesses alone,” said Davis. “I’ve been approached by several City Council members wanting us to bring forward this moratorium.”

All of the proposals were approved by commissioners. However, there was some disagreement on some issues, including a provision to reduce the permit fees on signs.

Davis proposed the fee be reduced   from $5 per square foot with a $50 minimum charge to $2 per square foot with a maximum charge of $25.

When some commissioners expressed concern that the $25 might not cover the City’s expense of inspecting a sign, the panel agreed to raise the maximum charge to $50.

A proposal to grandfather all existing signs was approved on a 4-2 vote with Commissioners Janet Oliver and Bill Soja voting no. Commissioners Davis, Patrick Harlow, Chris Pezold and Sammy Pruett voted yes. Commissioner Wes Griffin, vice chair of the panel, was not present Tuesday.

“I have a hard time agreeing to that,” Soja said. “Some (signs) shouldn’t be there. If we grandfather them, that says it’s okay for them to be there.”

“What difference does it make if people are paying to have it on their property?” Davis responded.

Davis also proposed that all off-premise signs, which are currently not permitted by the sign ordinance, be allowed. An off-premise sign promotes a business that is located elsewhere.

Maria Winkley, co-owner of Winkley’s General Store, appealed to the Commission at the beginning of the meeting to allow off-premise signage. Winkley’s rents space in its multi-panel sign to other businesses.

“I don’t have a problem with Winkley’s, but I don’t know what else is out there,” said Mrs. Oliver, who voted no along with Soja. The proposal passed on a 4-2 vote.

A proposal allowing temporary signs and banners to be permitted for up to 90 days at a cost of $10 was approved unanimously.

Davis said it was wrong for the City to charge a new business — Anytime Fitness — $300 to post a grand opening banner. He said the cost of having the banner printed by a local printer was $129, and when the owner of the new business learned of the City’s fee, the order was cancelled.

“This doesn’t encourage people to come here,” said Pezold. “We have to drive to another town to meet our basic needs.”

Davis also proposed that any permitted sign that is being repainted or resurfaced register with the City within 90 days. No permit fee would be required as is currently the case. This passed by a unanimous vote.

Although City Manager Manuel De La Rosa assured commissioners that the City is not requiring businesses that post signage on windows and doors to report the changes to the City, the panel voted unanimously to specify their intent.

If approved by the Council, businesses that advertise on their windows or doors would not have to register changes with the City and “are not controlled by the City unless they are offensive.”

Mrs. Oliver asked who would decide if the signage was “offensive” and how would “offensive” be defined.

De La Rosa said if an ordinance is too vague, it is difficult to enforce.

The definition would be addressed when the entire ordinance was rewritten, Davis said.

Soja asked Davis to show the current language in the sign ordinance where the issue is addressed, but Davis said he did not know where it was.

The ordinance is some 15 pages long and is contained in the City’s Unified Development Code. Davis was a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission that recommended the Council adopt the UDC. He said it was purchased as a model from the City of Kyle and the Commission worked for months to taylor it to meet Liberty Hill’s needs, but those changes were not adopted by Council.

Davis proposed the UDC be re-written to make it more business-friendly. De La Rosa said the Council has already budgeted funds for the project, which will be completed by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

De La Rosa said he has been meeting with some businesses that are out of compliance with the code as it is written currently. He said in most cases, he is putting enforcement of the sign ordinance on hold and charging no fees until the Council can make revisions to it.