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Property owners may soon be limited on how many temporary, non-commercial signs they can display in their yards.

Earlier this month, Jefferson City Senior Planner Eric Barron presented several proposed changes to the city code regarding non-commercial and commercial temporary signage during this month's Jefferson City Public Works and Planning Committee meeting.

Commercial signs advertise businesses while non-commercial are election, real estate, political or non-political signs.

Non-commercial signage

One of the proposed changes is regulating how many temporary non-commercial signs property owners and businesses can display and the sizes of those signs.

"Before, there was basically no limit on the number of signs," Barron said. "So, a very enthusiastic supporter of one political candidate or issue could literally plaster his yard with hundreds of yard signs and there's nothing we could do about it simply because we didn't have a limit on those numbers."

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Under the proposed amendments, a residential property would receive an allowance of two 5-square-foot, non-commercial signs and an additional two 5-square-foot signs per street frontage during election season. Election season is defined as 60 days before and five days after a federal, state or local election that represents the district in which the property is located, according to the proposed changes.

Under the proposed changes, commercial properties would receive an allowance of one 25-square-foot, non-commercial temporary sign and one additional 32-square-foot sign per street frontage during election season.

Temporary non-commercial, freestanding signs would also need to be set back at least 5 feet from paved portions of a street or curve in residential districts and 10 feet in commercial and industrial districts. Barron said city staff proposed this change to address issues regarding right-of-ways.

Property owners and business owners cannot place signs in a right-of-way without receiving permission first, Barron said. However, it is common for property owners to mistakenly place signs in the right-of-way.

Many times, property owners do not own property up to the street as there is a right-of-way running alongside the streets, Barron said. Without surveying the property though, knowing where the right-of-way begins can be difficult for property owners and city code enforcement. It can also be perceived as unfair, he added.

"Some people do own property all the way up to the curb line of the street and placing their signs on that property has a very high level of impact on that street, whereas property owners who do not own property all the way up to the street are forced to move their sign back," Barron said. "So, it can be perceived as being enforced differently in these two situations — allowing one person to have their sign up by the road whereas you're not letting me have mine up by the road."

Supreme Court ruling

While the signs do not necessarily have to be political, Barron said, they must be non-commercial. Businesses in commercial or residential districts cannot use the non-commercial temporary signage to advertise their products or services as that would be considered commercial speech.

"If a business or (property owner) wants to use their signage, they're allowed to advertise for a save the whales (organization) or political candidate, whatever, they're free to do so," Barron said. "What they cannot do is take that allowance for non-commercial speech and use it for commercial purpose."

In the 2015 Reed v. Town of Gilbert case, the Supreme Court ruled municipalities cannot regulate non-commercial temporary signs based on their messages. Jefferson City did regulate non-commercial temporary signs differently though, Barron said.

"We had certain allowances for how big a political sign could be versus how big a real estate signage or other signage could be, so we're eliminating those differences and putting them all together in one category and regulating how big that sign can be and where that sign can be and what it can consist of," he said.

During the Public Works and Planning Committee meeting, Ward 3 Councilman Ken Hussey expressed concerns the city code limits freedom of speech for businesses by not permitting commercial signage in residential areas. Under the Supreme Court case, City Counselor Ryan Moehlman said, cities cannot regulate different non-commercial signs, but these same rules do not apply to commercial speech.

Commercial signs are currently not permitted in residential districts unless a property has a valid Jefferson City building permit exceeding $10,000 in construction value, Barron said.

Commercial signage

The city code currently prohibits much of commercial advertising yard signs, banners and flags placed in front of a business and that will not change, Barron said. However, banners would be allowed at major intersections under the proposed changes.

One proposed change would permit sandwich board signs, Barron said, which are currently prohibited but still used by businesses in the community. Under the proposed changes, the sandwich signs — the two-sided freestanding signs commonly seen at strip malls and in downtown Jefferson City — would need to be against the side of the building and not tremendously affect the width of the walkway.

Along with these amendments, there were small changes like raising the maximum height for commercial building mounted signs from 32 feet to 50 feet, limiting residential flagpole heights, and processing sign permit applications.

Barron plans to introduce the bill to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission next month during a public hearing. If recommended for approval, it would go to the Jefferson City Council for a final vote possibly in August.

City staff hopes the proposed changes will help code enforcement better regulate signage or "advertising clutter," Barron said.

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"Businesses have a desire to place signage and things out in their yards and the community has a strong desire to keep the community looking pretty," he said. "So, a lot of the advertising and signage regulations by Jefferson City — and a lot of other communities — are for aesthetic purposes to basically prevent the proliferation of advertising clutter around the community."

City code enforcement regularly speaks with property owners and businesses about signage, Barron said. He noted many times property owners and businesses do not realize they are in violation of city code.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, though, it has been difficult for code enforcement officials to regulate non-commercial temporary signs since Jefferson City's sign code did not align with the Supreme Court ruling, Barron said.

City staff last made significant updates to the signage city code section in 2011.

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