Sign of the times

City Planner, City Commission discuss new ordinance
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
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Lewistown City Planner Cathy Barta holds up a garage sale sign, one of many types of signs regulated by the City’s sign ordinance. City commissioners will vote on an updated ordinance in November.

Photo by Charlie Denison



Lewistown City Planner Cathy Barta continued a discussion on the Lewistown Sign Ordinance during Monday’s City Commission meeting, where she received feedback and thoughts on possible revisions.

The updated sign ordinance came about after the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, Arizona that their content-based sign regulations were unconstitutional.

“The language in Gilbert, Arizona’s sign ordinance is almost verbatim that of our sign ordinance,” Barta said, “which made us aware that we needed to revise our ordinance.”

According to Barta, when you have a sign ordinance, you can’t regulate content, as content is protected by the first amendment. 

“You can regulate position, size of sign, how many signs, how bright it is, etc., but you cannot regulate if a sign says one thing versus another. It’s got to be consistent, so, based on that, we knew we had to take a look at our ordinance,” Barta said.

Content-based signs include garage sale, real estate, political and temporary signs.

“All temporary signs require a date written on the lower right-hand side,” Barta said. “They can be up for no longer than 90 days at a time no more than twice a year.”

There is a difference between temporary signs and limited duration signs, Barta said. 

“One of the proposed changes we are considering is the distinction of temporary signs and limited duration signs,” Barta said. “Temporary signs are more like political signs and garage sale signs. Examples of limited duration signs are more like real estate signs and would likely need to be up for longer than 90 days.”

There are also “personal expression signs,” which are not regulated.

“There is no prohibition on personal expression signs,” Barta said. “The constitution guarantees the right for personal expression.”

Barta also wanted to revisit the ordinance to address electronic message centers, i.e. glowing digital signs such as the ones at Doc’s, the Stockman Casino, First Bank or the Western Bar.

“Recent [sign] technologies are becoming more prolific in our area,” Barta said.

Sign size is also something Barta wants to revise.

“Certain signs were recently submitted to the City of Lewistown that were allowable under our existing ordinances but the community itself didn’t want, such as signs that were 35 feet high,” Barta said. “One company could have had 900 square feet of signage for their lot. That’s an extensive amount of signage, so we needed to take a look at this.”

Lewistown’s Design Review Board held two meetings, where they put together a new draft of the ordinance.

“We did a lot of homework,” Barta said, “including a study of a sign ordinance from Pennsylvania that was about 300 pages. They went through content-based signage extensively, and it was a really valuable work for us to study.”

One of the main priorities for Barta is the electronic message centers, as members of the Design Review Board have all heard complaints.

“Our initial consideration was to maybe consider prohibiting any future development of these within our community, however, taking our time to do our research, it appears the lawyers have already done the ground work. If we are to prohibit a certain kind of sign, we have to have a safety reason or historical reason behind it.”

This being the case, Barta said there are some revisions that can be made to protect the community from a potentially obnoxious sign.

“The current sign ordinance doesn’t have a solid measurement for brightness,” Barta said. “We’ve received a lot of complaints. It’s only a matter of time. If we don’t alter the brightness of a particular sign on Main Street, an accident will result, so we are providing brightness standards that are measurable.”

City commissioners will take a look at the ordinance in November. If passed, the sign ordinance would go into effect 30 days after the second reading.

Barta encourages members of the community to address their thoughts and concerns. 

“It is important to me to hear from you,” Barta said. “Without feedback, we won’t know every situation.”



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