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Posted: March 23, 2013 7:14 p.m.

Council OKs temp sign ordinance

After months of discussion, the Covington City Council finally reached a consensus on allowing temporary signs at businesses.

The council approved Monday the first reading of an ordinance change that will now allow one 16-square foot temporary sign per parcel of land. Councilman Chris Smith said each land parcel will be allowed to have one sign on it at all times; no more than one temporary sign will be allowed. The sign can be up to 16-square feet in size in any variation (4 feet by 4 feet, 2 feet by 8 feet, etc.).

The recommendation is based on the discussions by councilmen Smith and Keith Dalton and Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams, who were tasked with discussing the issue after Brian Burgoyne, a vice president at Newton Federal Bank, asked the council last fall to revisit its temporary sign regulations. Newton Federal previously allowed nonprofits to freely place their signs at the bank’s prominent location at the intersection of U.S. Highway 278 and Emory Street.

However, the city revamped its sign ordinance, including its regulations of temporary signs, in the fall of 2011 after significant study. The ordinance placed several restrictions on temporary signs:
• Businesses must pay a $25 yearly permit fee to be able to use temporary signs
• Businesses in commercial-mix corridor and industrial zonings could have up to five 30-day permits during a calendar year; only two 30-day permits can be issued back-to-back, then a business must wait 30 days before getting another permit
• Downtown businesses and those in town-center zonings can only receive temporary sign permits for 14 days, but cannot get consecutive permits; these businesses are still allowed a maximum of five permits.

Burgoyne said the above restrictions limited the number of nonprofits that could display signs to up to five per year and also required those nonprofits to spend money they didn’t have.

As a result of the change, Newton Federal could rotate as many different signs on its property as it wanted, as long as there was only temporary sign on the property at all times.

“I talked to a lot of businesses that are still suffering through the economy; several people, including myself, if they have a sale going on or an after Christmas or other times, they try to generate revenue and business so they can stay actively employed and keep their business vibrant,” said Smith, who owns Newton Electric Supply on U.S. 278. “I talked to (Senior Planner) Scott (Gaither), and since we suspended the ordinance, he has not noticed it being nearly as bad as it was years ago. Keep in mind that ordinances are living, breathing documents, and the council still can change it to anything it wants, harder or weaker (in the future).”

The council voted 5-0 to approve the recommendations; Councilman Mike Whatley was absent due to sickness.
Jonathan Paschal, president of Smart Growth Newton, a local nonprofit that advocates planning principles to combat sprawl and promote quality development, urged the council to keep the temporary sign regulations as they are. He said temporary signs are fine on occasion, but the city didn’t need them up all day, every day at every business.

He said good developers who are willing to spend money to build quality development want to be ensured that they will be flanked and join by other quality developers.

If developers believe ordinances will be relaxed in a couple of years, they won’t be willing to spend money for fear that subpar development could open up next to them.

Paschal said the council has a great planning staff that stays up with national and state planning standards and those staff members should be the ones leading the planning regulations.

Councilman Smith said in a follow-up interview that he believes the temporary sign ordinance needs to be put to bed at this point, but said it can be revisited later if there are problems.

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