The East Ridge City Council met in a special “called” meeting Monday morning to discuss/take action on the city’s sign ordinance.
The final outcome in the more than two-hour meeting, was Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt making a motion to place a moratorium on “billboards” within the city. After much fine-tuning on the official motion, the measure passed by a unanimous vote.
“We are to the point now where East Ridge has too much ‘eye pollution,’ or however you want to term it,” Gravitt said. “I don’t want any more of them (billboards).”
Mayor Brent Lambert was in line with Gravitt. “What is the future of billboards in East Ridge?” Lambert asked. “I agree with you. We don’t need any more.”
Kenny Custer, the city’s Codes Department Supervisor, had worked for several months thoroughly reviewing the existing ordinance that is perhaps a decade old. Custer made some proposed changes to make the ordinance more “business friendly.”
Vice Mayor Gravitt suggested that the council work through the 23-page document from front to back to allow the panel members to familiarize themselves with the vagaries of what business signs are allowed in the city and which ones are outlawed.
Custer told the panel that some months ago the city had a workshop where John Bridger, the head of the Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, made a presentation about how other cities across the state had dealt with business signs of all shapes and sizes.
“The big complaint we’ve had is in temporary signs,” Custer said. “How to make it more business friendly, yet reduce the clutter is a balancing act.”
Currently, temporary signs _ which may include flags and banners _ are only allowed for a defined amount of time during any given year. The business owner must pay $75 to the city for that privilege. The recommendation is to extend the time a business may display temporary signs, which would include the fourth week of November through Christmas, and perhaps other holidays.
The council discussed LED signs, which are like big television sets, and how those may increase in coming years. One complaint citizens have about the signs, city official said, is that they are too bright at night and are a distraction to drivers. The council wants any new ordinance to require the signs be dimmed at night to avoid dangerously distracting drivers.
Councilman Jacky Cagle was concerned about the city enacting a law that may be in conflict with state guidelines on billboards and other business signs. Custer told him that the city could always have stricter guidelines just not ones that were more lenient. Chief Building Inspector Brad Hayen told the council that under the current sign ordinance an official definition of what constitutes a “billboard” is not stated.
City Attorney Hal North said the city would be on firm legal footing if its new guidelines were enacted for “a defined public purpose,” such as dimming LED signs at night to ensure motoring safety.
North told the council that it would receive “push back” from new businesses coming to the city when informed they must comply with new guidelines when their business neighbors have signage that the new business is not allowed to have.
Councilman Denny Manning stated that the city must be mindful of how the new sign ordinance might impact small businesses. “If they can’t advertise, they won’t come to East Ridge,” Manning said. Gravitt countered by saying that “one part in attracting new businesses is having an attractive commercial district … you must strike a balance.”
Mayor Lambert urged city staff to act with all haste in preparing a new sign ordinance that could be voted on twice within a 13-day period prior to the end of this year. He noted there are only two meetings left in 2015, as the council meets only once in the months of November and December.