Covington passed a revamped sign ordinance in an effort to beautify the city and eliminate the visual clutter on its main thoroughfares.
While the changes are already in effect, city code enforcement officials will take time to educate business owners during the next few months before actively enforcing the revised rules in 2012 and requiring illegal signs to be removed.
Temporary signs limited
One of the main changes and most noticeable will be the limitations placed on temporary signs, including banners, inflatables and sail signs, such as the fabric dollar menu signs outside Arby's and We Buy Gold.
Building Inspector Brett Reed said the city is not trying to harm holiday sales, and will likely allow merchants to keep their usual holiday signs.
Many businesses have had temporary signs up for several months or even years in some cases, but now businesses will be limited to having these signs up for a maximum of five months and even less in downtown Covington and other zonings.
Specifically, businesses in commercial mix corridors and industrial zonings will be allowed five 30-day permits per year, but temporary signs can not be up for more than two consecutive months. As a result, business will have to be more strategic about when they want to set up temporary signs.
Downtown businesses and those in town center zonings can only receive temporary sign permits for 14 days in length and are still limited to five permits per year. Consecutive permits are not allowed, but 14 days must pass between the issuance of each permit.
All current banners, like the 10-cent fuel discount sign at Kroger, and inflatable devices were illegal even before the sign ordinance change, because none of them were officially permitted, Reed said.
Banners are still allowed, but they must be attached to the physical building. They cannot be attached to fences, polls or vehicles on the property.
Inflatables and sail signs are not allowed downtown, but are allowed in corridor and industrial zonings. Owners can have a maximum of one inflatable, which cannot be taller than 35 feet in height. Sail signs are allowed to be free standing. Banner size is limited depending on zoning.
The idea behind the ordinance is not to eliminate the use of these signs, but simply to limit the number up at any one point. Business must now pay a yearly permit fee of $25 to put up temporary signs.
Pennants and streamers are not allowed in any form under the new ordinance.
The signs held by employees of Little Caesar's, Verizon and We Buy Gold who walk up and down the sidewalks near those businesses will not be regulated, said Senior Planner Scott Gaither. Gaither said the courts have ruled that holding signs on public property is a legal right protected under the freedom of speech, as long as the sign holder is not blocking any access to private property.
"It's interesting how signs and advertising are coming full circle now," Gaither said, referring to the times when businesses would have people wear sandwich boards to advertise products and services.
Wall signs are defined as those attached to the exterior of a building, and they are allowed in most zonings. The legal size of these signs is based on the size of the corresponding building: each tenant is allowed 1 square foot of sign for each 1 linear foot of tenant space per elevation.
The prior ordinance was not as flexible, Gaither said.
Additional restrictions have been placed on ground signs, which are defined as those anchored to the ground and independent of a building, including signs on poles or other structures other than a building.
These signs must now be attached to a permanent wall or base made of brick, stone or masonry.
Electric signs where the text changes or rotates are allowed in corridor mix and industrial zonings, but the signs cannot flash or blink, must not be too bright and their messages can only change once per minute.
Standard Informational Signs
"Standard Informational" is a new sign definition that covers election campaign signs, real estate signs and garage sale signs among others; these signs don't require permits. These signs cannot be larger than 4.5 square feet and they cannot be higher than 2.5 feet off the ground.
The number of these signs is technically unlimited, though in most business zonings, the total signage cannot exceed 20 square feet, and in most residential zonings the total square feet cannot exceed 16 square feet. However, during election campaign season the number of signs allowed is unlimited in most zonings.
Fees and permits
With a few exceptions, all signs require owners to pay for a permit. Electric signs permits cost $50 plus 1 percent of the construction cost in excess of $1,000, while non-electric signs cost $25 plus 1 percent of the construction cost in excess of $1,000.
Most existing signs that were previously legally constructed are grandfathered in, but these signs must come into compliance if they are significantly changed. Minor maintenance is allowed on a non-conforming sign.
Any signs in public right-of-way have always been illegal and cane be removed by city officials at any time, and Reed said the city is working on cleaning up any illegally placed campaign signs.
For more information regarding the revised sign ordinance, contact Reed by phone at (770) 385-2175 or by email at breed@cityofcovington. New sign permits are available at cityofcovington.org, under the Planning and Zoning Department page.