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Covington sign ordinance gets overhaul

Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith ---- Covington Ford is a good example of a new regulation that allows businesses to have one square foot of signage for every linear foot of building space. The car dealership has 200 linear feet of facade and about 180 square feet of signange.
 This banner hanging on the Kroger in Newton Plaza, and many others like it in the city, is illegal because it has not been permitted. A new sign ordinance sets limits on how long such temporary signs can be displayed. 

Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith ---- Covington Ford is a good example of a new regulation that allows businesses to have one square foot of signage for every linear foot of building space. The car dealership has 200 linear feet of facade and about 180 square feet of signange. This banner hanging on the Kroger in Newton Plaza, and many others like it in the city, is illegal because it has not been permitted. A new sign ordinance sets limits on how long such temporary signs can be displayed. 

COVINGTON -- The city has revamped its sign ordinance and officials are asking business owners to take note.

A major change in the new ordinance relates to temporary signs, defined as a display, informational sign or banner with or without a structural frame, that is not permanently attached to a building, structure or the ground and is intended to be displayed for a limited time. Examples are banners, inflatables and sail signs, those where a piece of cloth is attached at one edge to a staff or cord, making the shape of a sail.

Numerous public complaints and complaints from business owners have been fielded by the city related to temporary signs, and that's what inspired officials to craft a better defined and enforceable ordinance. The goal of the ordinance is to allow property owners to display messages in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, said Building Inspector II Brett Reed.

A second goal is "to eliminate the clutter that's been going on for years," said Senior Planner Scott Gaither.

Temporary signs require a permit and can be issued a maximum of five times per calendar year for 30 consecutive days. Two back-to-back permits can be issued for a maximum of 60 consecutive days, and after that, 30 days must pass before another permit is issued. In downtown Covington, temporary signs can be displayed for one period of 14 days and another 14 days must pass before another permit will be issued. The permit fee is a flat $25 per year regardless of how many permits are issued.

Business owners will need to plan ahead and decide what times of year they want to promote sales with temporary signs, Reed said. The old ordinance had no time limits for temporary signs. As a result, many businesses leave temporary signs out all year, making them permanent signage, he said.

For example, Kroger on U.S. Highway 278 has a banner hanging on the store informing customers of fuel discounts they can receive by using their Kroger Plus cards. The sign has been up for at least a year, Reed said. Country Inn and Suites on Alcovy Road was allowed to put up a temporary sign during road construction to let customers know they were still open and their room rates -- that sign has been up at least three years, he said.

"All banners currently in the city are illegal because none have been permitted," Reed said.

Temporary signs will not be grandfathered in now that the new ordinance is in effect. However, given that it's the holiday season and merchants tend to put up these types of signs more often to promote sales, full enforcement won't start until January. In the meantime, business owners can expect to receive warnings if they are not in compliance.

"We're not trying to stop Christmas sales," Reed said, adding that there will be a grace period to allow business owners to get educated about the new ordinance.

They should also take heed that streamers and pennants are not allowed under the new ordinance, Gaither said.

Banners are allowed as temporary signs but must be attached to a building facade facing a public street and cannot hang freely or be freestanding attached to a utility pole, light pole, bollard, fence or vehicle.

Inflatables are now allowed with a permit so long as they are less than 35 feet high and are limited to one per property.

Though some citizens have complained they're annoyed by people standing in the right of way holding "We Buy Gold" and other signs advertising businesses, those are not prohibited, Gaither said. The city of Grayson attempted to regulate such activity and lost in court because, "They're not blocking the right of way and it's freedom of speech," Gaither said.

But signs placed in the right of way are a different story. That has always been illegal and that law is being actively enforced, Reed said. "If you do put something on the right of way you will be notified and/or it will be removed," he said.

Code enforcement picked up 200 campaign signs from the rights of way during election season in a span of two days, said Gaither. Letters have been sent to violators with larger signs that cannot be easily removed notifying them that they must take them down.

Standard informational signs, like campaign signs, garage sale signs, "Now Open" signs and signs congratulating graduates, for example, are also addressed in the ordinance. These signs are allowed to be up to four and a half square feet and mounted on a wooden stake or metal frame not higher than two and a half feet.

These signs do not require a permit, but the total square footage must not exceed 20 square feet per property. The exception is during the election season, when the number of standard informational signs is unlimited.

Permanent sign regulations have also been altered. Businesses are now allowed to have one square foot of wall sign per one linear foot of building space.

Covington Ford, though built before the sign ordinance was approved, is a good example of this, with 200 linear feet of building space and 180 square feet of signage.

Previously, wall signs could cover up to 70 square feet or 10 percent of total space, whichever was less.

Ground signs can be up to 8 feet high and must be attached to a permanent wall or base constructed of brick, stone or textured concrete masonry. Pole and pylon signs are no longer allowed.

Changeable copy signs are permitted but cannot exceed 25 percent of the ground sign face and cannot be animated, flash, blink or vary in light intensity and must hold a fixed message for one minute at a time and change messages in less than three seconds.

These regulations apply to new signs only. Existing signs are grandfathered unless they are taken down, in which case they must come into compliance with the new ordinance when they are replaced.

Fees for permanent signs are $50 plus one percent of construction cost exceeding $1,00 for electric and $25 plus one percent of construction cost exceeding $1,000 for non-electric signs.

For more information regarding the sign ordinance, call Reed at 770-385-2175 or email breed@cityofcovington.org.