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Businesses may not be able to put signs on sidewalks

Durango City Council, Planning Commission discuss proposed code
These A-frame signs may not be allowed by the city because of concerns that they are a public safety hazard.

Businesses may not be allowed to put out temporary signs in the public right-of-way because of safety issues, the Durango City Council and Planning Commission agreed Tuesday.

Councilors and commissioners met in a joint study session to discuss updates to a proposed sign code, rules that city staff have been working on for months. The goals of the new code include content neutrality, improved usability and clarity, and increased flexibility.

Allowing businesses to put up a sign in the right-of-way, like a sidewalk, creates a safety hazard, much like a person who is sitting or lying on the ground, Councilor Dean Brookie said.

The council in May of this year passed a law that banned sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks, curbs and other public areas. Brookie said the thrust of the council’s argument for passing the sit-and-lie ban was a public safety issue.

Mayor Sweetie Marbury pushed back against this assertion, saying that it is the right of businesses to market themselves.

“Now, we’re going to replace bodies with sandwich boards?” Brookie said. “I don’t think that’s going to work.”

The current sign code became obsolete in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local governments may not regulate signs based on what is on them. For example, rules cannot distinguish between a political sign and a real estate sign when determining when, where and for how long a sign may be put up.

The topic of content neutrality came up when staff began talking about proposed allowances for yard signs. The code proposes to allow 12 square feet of signage on any property for an unlimited amount of time. What makes that different from a permanent sign? one commissioner asked. The materials they’re made of, said Scott Shine, planning manager.

Marbury again argued in favor of signage, saying that limiting the amount of signage allowed will make it more difficult for people to show their support for as many candidates or issues as they want.

“I am not in favor of limiting my political voice,” Marbury said.

Councilors and commissioners kicked around the idea of allowing more signage during the 30 days before an election but gave pause as to whether that proposed rule would meet the content neutral standards required by the Supreme Court. Could allowing more signs before a political season be seen as a facade for allowing more political signs? they questioned.

City Attorney Dirk Nelson said he had not researched the issue and could not give an answer.

bhauff@durangoherald.com

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