Spearfish initiates text amendment of city sign ordinance

December 25, 2018

SPEARFISH — The Spearfish Planning Commission Tuesday initiated a text amendment of the city’s sign ordinance.

The staff report, dated Dec. 18, explained that the last update of the city’s code regarding signs was in 2009, and since then, various legal cases have been decided that require a reevaluation of the city’s current sign code.

“Additionally, there is a desire by both staff and users of the sign ordinance to simply the code for easier understanding,” the report states.

City staff discussed a recent Supreme Court decision with the planning commission in July. In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz., in 2015, the court determined that the content of the sign cannot be factored into the regulation, and since one must read a sign to determine whether it is a business promotion, vendor, election, etc., the city needs to remove these categories and update its ordinance. The court determined that regulation of signs must fall into three categories: Time, how long it’s displayed; placement, where it exists in the real world; and the manner of display.

The court opined that its decision would “not prevent governments from enacting effective sign laws” but did not provide further guidance on how to create effective sign laws — just that they must be content-neutral.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito provided some examples of rules regarding temporary signs that would not be content-based, including rules regulating the size of signs; the locations in which signs may be placed; distinguishing between lighted and unlighted signs; distinguishing between signs with fixed messages and electronic signs with messages that change; placement of signs on private versus public property; placement of signs on commercial and residential property; on-premises and off-premises signs; number of signs allowed per mile of roadway; and time restrictions on signs advertising a one-time event. However, these examples were part of Alito’s concurrence and not the official opinion of the court.

Spearfish city code banned temporary signs for years, but in its last sign ordinance updated allowed for them, outlining type of sign, sign purpose, maximum size, number, location/placement/installation, permit, and additional regulations in the current code.

It currently categorizes sign purpose into: Business promotion, special event, real estate, Rally/seasonal vendor, and election. The current definition of a temporary sign in the city’s ordinance is: “Any sign that is: a. A sign placed for the purposed of promoting or directing attention to a special event or activity that does not have permanent signage; b. A supplementary sign used by a business that currently has existing permanently mounted signs.”

The problem, City Planner Jayna Watson said previously, deals with content regulation.

In the Dec. 18 staff report, city staff proposes limiting the sign regulation to time, place and manner. “Regulation cannot be based on the sign’s content,” it states. “Staff believes the most logical approach is to tie the sign allowance to the property’s zoning district.”

It adds that the update would simply the code and make it more user-friendly. “The current sign ordinance is vague and unclear in certain scenarios and it is difficult to apply the ordinance to those situations,” the report states.

City staff prepared an outline for updated sign regulations, by land use/zoning district, with the purpose of amending the sign code to be consistent with case law pertaining to sign regulations. The outlines has a section for definitions; general standards for all zones; standards for specific zones for temporary and permanent signs; and lighting standards.

Watson added that many entities are in the same position, with Lawrence County and various East River municipalities currently reviewing their code regarding signs. She said that the first step is for the city to reach out to stakeholders, including business owners, to compile comments and feedback about what they would like to see and how a new ordinance may impact them, etc.

“We will get to work, seeing how much of the existing ordinance can be saved, modified, or revised,” she added.

The commission unanimously approved initiating the text amendment. Commissioners Jim Hopewell and Dan Green were absent.

The goal is to have the new code ready to be adopted in the first quarter of 2019.

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