Sign ordinance not yet put to bed

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

Despite approving a new sign ordinance in June, the City Council is not done discussing the issue.

Mayor Kim Carter announced Monday night that she has not signed into law the ordinance passed by the council at its June 20 meeting and intended to veto it and bring it up for discussion again when the entire council could be present. Council members Janet Goodman and Mike Whatley were absent from Monday's meeting.

Carter said she was concerned that the ordinance was changed during the second reading without time for reflection and she wanted to make sure the final document was thorough.

"This is one of those things, if we don't get it right the first time, and things go up, they get grandfathered in and it's hard to go back," she said.

Of particular concern was that certain items -- such as roof signs, courtesy benches, trash cans and other items including a sign or message, pennants, streamers and balloons -- had been removed from the prohibited list by the council during the second reading.

However, those items were not listed as permissible in the ordinance, nor defined as where they would be allowed. If they are not specifically listed in the ordinance as permissible, they still will be prohibited, according to Senior Planner Scott Gaither.

Gaither drafted amendments for the council's consideration that specified zoning districts for roof and temporary signs. The draft limits roof signs to the corridor mixed-use district while temporary signs requiring permits -- such as pennants, streamers and balloons -- would be allowed in corridor mixed use, light and heavy industrial districts, so long as they are not higher than the building.

The draft also establishes a one-time annual fee of $25 for temporary signs. As previously approved by the council, temporary signs could go up five times per year for 30 days at a time.

However, none of this is final, as the council agreed to table the issue and call a work session for further discussion. A date has not yet been set.

Councilmen Chris Smith and Keith Dalton have both said it's not right that the city can place what would be classified as temporary signs for a business -- the signs on lampposts in downtown Covington -- without penalty.

"If we can go up to the Square as a city and put 50 banners on light posts, how can we tell merchants they can't do that?" Smith said.

Gaither said those signs are exempt from regulations because they are official signs of the local government. He said all these issues will hopefully be hashed out at the upcoming work session.

Smart Growth Newton County is encouraging the city to take another look at the ordinance before making it into law. Smart Growth President Jonathan Paschal said the ordinance passed by the council is flawed and increases opportunities for clutter because it does not regulate roof, temporary and permitted signs.

"We just think you moved far too quickly and made a mistake that can be easily corrected," he said.

Following discussion with Attorney Ed Crudup, Carter said she would not veto the ordinance but ask that it be tabled. The council voted 3 to 1 to table the discussion with Dalton opposed.