Every business and organization in a commercial area in Covington will now be able to have one — and only one — temporary sign on its property at all times.
Though the revised ordinance is more lenient than the one it replaced, dozens of businesses are still in violation of the ordinance approved Monday by the Covington City Council; however, it’s unclear whether businesses that have multiple temporary signs, such as banners or sail signs, will be grandfathered into the law.
The businesses would have been in violation under the previous temporary sign portion of the sign ordinance, but that section was suspended last fall at the request of a local businessman.
The revised ordinance is much simpler and will make enforcement easier, said planning director Randy Vinson when asked by the council.
Though a stricter ordinance is better, Vinson said the prior temporary sign regulations were cumbersome to enforce.
The revised ordinance allows one banner sign of up to 16 square feet in size to be displayed in CR (corridor residential), NM (neighborhood mixed-use), TCR (town center residential) and TCM (town center mixed-use) zonings.
In CM (corridor mixed-use), M-1 (light industrial) and M-2 (heavy industrial) zonings, one banner or freestanding sale sign of up to 16 square feet in size will be allowed.
Sail signs cannot be more than 16 feet in height.
Banners are not allowed to be attached to utility or light poles.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston had to cast a tie-breaking vote on the issue, as councilmen Keith Dalton, Chris Smith and Mike Whatley voted in favor of the ordinance change, while councilwomen Ocie Franklin, Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams opposed the change.
The three councilwomen changed their mind as the first reading of the ordinance passed 5-0.
The councilwomen may have been swayed by the arguments of former mayor Kim Carter, who gave a PowerPoint presentation and sent emails to the council urging them to stick with the sign ordinance, which was adopted in October 2011.
Carter said the city spend lots of time, energy and expense having consultants and experts craft a strict ordinance that would place high standards on signage throughout the city.
She said the sign ordinance was no different than the mayor’s efforts to beautify the city’s interstate exits in an effort to make the city more attractive.
Carter urged the council not to change an ordinance because of one or two complaints, especially when a solution existed in the form of a business erecting a — admittedly more expensive — monument sign, where the face of the sign could be changed on a regular basis.
She said the sign ordinance needed to be given more time to work and noted she’s seen more than 30 violations in a single day driving around the city.
Barbara Morgan, who manages Morgan Plaza on Pace Street, also spoke against changing the regulations, saying the community did not want to step back from its tough standards, especially when so many eyes were on the city with the announcements of Baxter International’s medical manufacturing plant and Triple Horse’s large movie studio.
She said she planned to improve the look of her center to make it more attractive to tenants and customers.
The temporary sign regulations were suspended after Brian Burgoyne, a vice president at Newton Federal Bank, asked the council to revisit the 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, but the regulations limited that ability.
The regulation passed in 2011 limited businesses to having a temporary sign up for a total of five months and not more than two months in a row, while downtown business were even more limited.
Mayor Johnston said he wanted to see an enforceable ordinance that would allow the planning department to take action quickly and remove non-conforming signs.
He said the ordinance can always be tightened more in the future if need be.
Carter and the councilwomen expressed concern about tattered and torn banner and sale signs, but Vinson said the overall sign ordinance already has a section that covers that and requires signs to be in proper condition.