Deadline for campaign sign removal passes

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Now that all the ballots have been counted, officials are eager to put the May primary behind them — and that includes all of the campaign signs.

“We limit the time a temporary sign can be displayed to ensure there is not visual clutter along our roadways,” Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz said. “We limit the number of signs for the same reason.”

The city granted at least 15 temporary sign permits related to the race for Wilson County sheriff. The permits are issued for 45 days with approval from property owners, but the expiration on the last of those permits is today.

In the past, cities across the country had different regulations depending on the type and location of a temporary sign, but the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert made Wilson and other communities retool sign ordinances.

“While the previous version of the sign ordinance has allowed many more sign types without a permit, the Reed v. Town of Gilbert decision has indicated that it could be problematic to choose certain signs to have permits and others to not, so most signs now require permits,” Lentz said. “For example, in some published legal analysis of the Reed decision, it is suggested that it could be content-based to require a permit for an advertising banner, but not require a permit for a political sign as one example. To avoid this, all temporary signs located on non-residential property have the same regulations.”

As such, all temporary signs — whether promoting a candidate or another non-commercial message — are permitted for 45 days, and officials bar any other temporary signs at that location for 30 days. If the signs remain after the expiration, city staff gets involved.

“Those on private property became a zoning violation, and we use letters to provide a warning, then fines if the sign remains after the time frame given for removal,” Lentz said.

With regard to the smaller political signs — usually 24-by-18 on corrugated plastic or cardboard — placed in the right-of-way along roads, the deadline also has passed.

“The state General Assembly passed a law to exempt those small signs from local regulation when placed on state-owned and maintained rights-of-way. This exemption is for political signs only,” Lentz said. “... As we have time, we will remove any sign placed in the right-of-way after the 10-day waiting period dictated by the state.”

Many of the permitted and non-permitted temporary signs already have been removed, but officials encourage Wilsonians to remove the rest.

“Any permanent sign can carry any lawful message the owner so chooses, so there is a lot of opportunity for people to share their messages,” Lentz said. “Temporary signs are meant to enhance that ability, but with limits so the public can reasonably find businesses, churches, etc. and their messages along the roadway. When there are too many signs, it becomes very difficult to find any of the messages through the clutter.”

Lentz said city staff dealt with few issues regarding signs during the May 8 primary.

“With only a handful of races in this year’s primary, we did not see the number of signs we have seen in the past and had very few complaints compared to years past when the number of candidates and races were much higher,” he said.

Visit tinyurl.com/mkz57vo and read chapter 11 for more information about Wilson’s sign ordinance.