The City of Rolla had requested an ordinance to amend the Rolla Planning and Zoning Code by deleting and adding language on signs, which surfaced after the business community pressed the city for changes. Some members felt they were penalized because of restrictions and a misunderstanding of the current sign ordinance.

At the City Council meeting on July 16, 2018, six local business owners and the executive director of the Rolla Chamber of Commerce, who spoke on behalf of the multiple business owners in attendance, said that temporary signage should be permitted. The process of drafting new temporary sign provisions began around two weeks later, said Rolla City Planner, James Shields.

The request would require the city to pass an ordinance to amend Article III of Chapter 42, which is known as the Rolla Planning and Zoning Code, by deleting and adding language to Division 18 of Article III, which is known as Signs, for the particular purpose of permitting temporary and portable signs and ensuring that the free expression clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is not violated with the sign ordinance.

The final reading of the ordinance was held at the Rolla City Council meeting on Dec. 17, 2018, that included an updated draft that would amend three sections of Division 18 of Article III known as Signs in the Rolla Planning and Zoning Code. The recommended changes presented by Shields would go into full force and effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

The revisions were modeled in accordance with two codes – one code by the United States Sign Council and one code that was developed by a research group led by the American Planning Association.

On two occasions the Community Development Department and Rolla City Administrator John Butz met with five business owners, a representative of business owners, and one local real estate agent for feedback on a draft of the new sign ordinance.

There was also a question and answer session with business owners and citizens in early Dec. 2018 where around 10 people were present. At the session, several items were addressed concerning the proposed sign ordinance, and it was a productive meeting, said Shields.

There was one person against the sign regulations in general, specifically the prohibition of flashing signs, however flashing signs aren’t prohibited; the very fast flashing signs are prohibited, said Shields.

“Overall everybody was happy. There was one man who owned a construction company and he was questioning the fact of the two week limit for off-premise signs, but by the end he was okay,” said Shields.

The proposed sign ordinance’s objectives are remaining content-neutral without different regulations for different speakers; moreover, regulation of the medium, not the message, said Shields.

Traffic safety and aesthetics are the two public purposes that have been held as valid reasons to regulate signage; however, sign regulations are susceptible to claims of violations of the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

When such claims involve noncommercial speech, the courts analyze these claims with scrutiny, a type of scrutiny that is difficult to survive. Strict scrutiny requires the government to show there is a compelling state interest behind the regulation. That the regulation is not too broad, and the least restrictive means of regulation were being used, said Shields.

Speech regulation is content-based if a law applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.  Also, the majority opinion of Reed v. the Town of Gilbert states that “laws favoring some speakers over others demand strict scrutiny when the legislature’s speaker preference reflects a content preference.”

For these reasons, a sign ordinance should be content-neutral, which includes refraining from discriminating between speakers, and a content-neutral code will regulate the time, place, and manner in which a sign is posted, not its message, according to Shields.

Further the sign ordinance’s objective is to permit a wide range of temporary signs that the general business community desired, allow temporary off-premise signage in residential areas that businesses desire; ensure the public has the ability to express themselves through signs throughout the year freely; to limit discretion and protect residential areas and limit aesthetic degradation, said Shields.

The existing temporary sign regulations and proposed amendments to the existing sign regulations were then presented by Shields.

The Existing Temporary Sign Regulations 

Division 19 of the Rolla Planning and Zoning Code bans all temporary and portable signs except for those that are listed as exempt. Exemptions are known to be the area of a sign code that is often found to be content-based and undermine the aesthetic purpose of the code, said Shields.

In regards to temporary and portable signage, the current exemptions listed are banner signs limited to 30 days per four months and messaging that is not considered to be an official flag, as those are entirely exempt.

Political signs are limited to 14 days after an election, but not limited to any time before the election. Real estate, lessee and construction area signs are restricted to only residential zones with an area of 6 square feet or 34 square feet and obligated to be removed within 14 days of sale date or 30 days within the construction completion date.

Residential garage, estate or public auction sale signs, and signs advertising drives or events of a charitable, educational or religious nature are restricted to 6 square feet and have a posting period correlated with the duration of the event, that is no more than 30 days a year.

In the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, three different types of noncommercial temporary signs; directional, political and ideological, each with its own size limits and time limits were exempt. Based on that fact, Rolla’s current ordinance was found factually unconstitutional, according to Shields.

“With all this considered, one can see why Rolla’s sign provisions are problematic as currently written and needed to be rewritten,” said Shields.

Therefore the recommended changes for the final reading were:

Proposed Sign Regulations, Residential

Only minor changes to number and area requirements were made to permanent signs in residential zones. The current code indicates that in addition to addressing numbers and nameplates, which are exempt up to a certain size and number, all multi-family or commercial properties within residential zones are permitted one detached sign limited to 60 square feet and one attached sign limited to 2 square feet per linear foot of wall length.

The proposed ordinance permits any use and structure not considered a single-family house or duplex located in residential zones one pole ground sign per entrance exit and one wall sign per building; any permanent signage is limited to 64 square feet.

The proposed code permits all residentially zoned properties an unlimited number of year-round temporary signs, as long as all signs together equate to 32 square feet -- that was formerly 24 square feet but was then amended by the city council motion to 32 square feet of area or less than 6 feet in height.

“This method of ensuring people’s rights to free expression is recommended by experts, but is usually less liberal,” said Shields.

Altogether, these provisions were added, in part, to ensure free speech opportunities are provided at any given time of the year and to accommodate unique periods in history that encourage people to speak more than other times, such as political seasons and social movements, while still attempting to protect the aesthetic quality of residential areas, said Shields.

Also, only temporary freestanding signs are permitted in residential districts. Signs that are considered more aesthetically degrading are not allowed, such as inflatable signs and feather banners. All permanent signage in all zones is required to be on-premise signage, except that off-premise signage may be posted for no more than 14 days in any given quarter of a year, said Shields.

Lastly, any of the 32 square feet of temporary signage for one- family and two-family residences can be substituted with permanent wall, ground or pole signs, said Shields.

Proposed Sign Regulations, Non-Residential

Except for permitting corner lots to have two detached signs without the requirement of 500 feet separation, the size and number of permanent signs allowed in nonresidential districts did not change with the proposed revisions.

However, the proposed ordinance permits Electronic Message Center signs in nonresidential areas without restrictions, except that it cannot flash, or play full-motion video or film display, or be within 100 feet of a residential district.

This was done because research has shown no correlation between Electronic Message Center signs and traffic accidents. In addition, the new ordinance permits permanent mechanical movement and revolving signs in zones of C-2 and higher, and allows roof signs in C-3 and C-C zoning districts.

“We permitted these three types of signs, in part, because they should not be any more distracting than electronic signage and large amounts of temporary signage. In addition to these permanent sign provisions, we permitted each tenant space within nonresidential zoning districts two temporary signs at any given time, unless the tenant space is locating a balloon sign or inflatable sign on the premises,” said Shields. “In which case, they’ are only permitted that one temporary sign.”

This was done, in part because inflatable signs and balloon signs can be massive and are potentially more distracting, and these are permitted to be up to 75 square feet in size and 24 square feet in height, said Shields.

Shields then presented the three proposed language changes for the final reading of the sign ordinance that addressed sign regulations for residential zoning districts, temporary and portable signs and a deletion of a section of the current ordinance to address any future loophole.

To address vacant lots

The current language of Section 42 -244.5(a) – Sign Regulations for Residential Zoning Districts

Sign standards for properties within residential zoning districts containing single-family houses and duplexes, even if business is being conducted in the building.

The proposed language of Section 42 -244.5(a) – Sign Regulations for Residential Zoning Districts

Sign standards for properties within residential zoning districts that are vacant or contain single-family houses or duplexes. Even if business is being conducted in the building.

Current language of Section 42 -244.7(a) – Temporary and Portable Signs

Each tenant space on a property in a nonresidential district is permitted to locate two temporary signs on such a property, except that when a tenant locates a balloon sign or inflatable sign on the property. The tenant shall not locate any other temporary or portable sign on the property. Off-premise temporary signage shall now be posted for more than 15 consecutive days in any given quarter of a year and such signage shall be removed within 14 days of receiving notice from the City of Rolla.

Proposed language of Section 42 -244.7(a) – Temporary and Portable Signs

Each independently occupied tenant space on a property in a nonresidential district is permitted to locate two temporary signs on such a property, except that when a tenant locates a balloon sign or inflatable sign on the property, the tenant shall not locate any other temporary or portable sign on the property. Off-premise temporary signage shall not be posted for more than 15 consecutive days in any given quarter of a year and such signage shall be removed within 14 days of receiving notice from the City of Rolla. A vacant parcel will be permitted the same amount of temporary signage as one occupied tenant space.

To address potential loophole

Delete Section 42-244(j) – Exempt Signs, Decorations

Decorations, except that they shall not be displayed for more than 120 days a year.

After Shields presented the proposed changes, Rolla Mayor Louis Magdits questioned Shields in regards to political signs. Magdits used the example of the vacant lot adjacent to Family Video in Rolla. The lot is large, and during elections, a substantial amount of political signs are placed on the lot. 

The proposed changes would restrict the size of political signs on the lot as well as the number since a vacant parcel will be permitted the same amount of temporary signage as one occupied tenant space with the proposed changes to the language of the current sign ordinance.

“So when the next election comes along you are saying that lot can only have two signs up to 32 square feet, so that is a significant change at least with respect to that lot,” said Magdits.

Shields responded that commercial areas are limited to two temporary signs if they are temporary freestanding signs. Each one of those can be up to 32 square feet, so right now each lot is allowed two signs up to 32 square feet per sign before an election and doesn’t state when a person has to take the signs down, said Shields.

The proposed ordinance would allow for an unlimited amount of political signs, but the mandate is more liberal in a sense that a person can now have political signs on the lot for more than 30 days, but the city would limit the size of the signs, said Shields. The proposed ordinance states that all of the signs must have a combined total of up to 32 square feet at most.

 “I am struggling with this because we encourage people to run for elected positions. This is one of those ways somebody supports their cause. Are we being too restrictive in that particular application?” asked Magdits.

Shields said “no,” and added that most of the model codes that were used to develop the proposed city ordinance are more restrictive than the proposed revisions for Rolla’s city code. One ordinance Shields used as an example allows an unlimited amount of free-expression signs, but they can’t be more than 3 square feet.

“I thought he was saying on a nonresidential vacant lot you can put up at least three 4 foot by 8-foot signs,” said Magdits.

Butz stated that the city could do that, but the ordinance would have to define that a vacant lot is equivalent to two tenant spaces, which would allow for the four signs.

Shields further added that the proposed sign ordinance doesn’t define what a tenant space is either, “it’s just when one particular part of a building is used for one tenant.”

In light of the issue, Magdits proposed to address the definitions of vacant lot and tenant space in the ordinance at a later time.

 “I hate to prolong the agony of this, but can we go through the reading based upon what we know with these amendments and pass those tonight,” said Magdits. “Then give some time to this last particular issue, and if necessary come back and change that one?”

Council member Brian Woolley agreed with Magdits and said businesses drive the whole issue and they want to advertise.

“That is the issue we need to address here. This other stuff we can worry about later. We need to take care of our small local businesses,” said Woolley.

The final reading of the ordinance was passed, amending Article III of Chapter 42, which is known as the Rolla Planning and Zoning Code, by deleting and adding language to Division 18 of Article III, which is known as Signs, for the particular purpose of permitting temporary and portable signage, including the three amendments as stated on the record:

-- The amendment to Section 42 -244.5(a) – Sign Regulations for Residential Zoning Districts.

-- The amendment to Section 42 -244.7(a) – Temporary and Portable Signs, by adding the words “independently occupied” and a “vacant parcel” shall be permitted unlimited temporary freestanding signs as long as the total sign area doesn’t exceed 96 sq. ft.

-- The amendment to delete Section 42-244(j) – Exempt Signs, Decorations.

The motion carried, and the final reading of Rolla's new sign code passed.