Political Sign Regulations, Town Council Intent and Findings

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POLICY STATEMENT 144

Town Council Intent & Findings Regarding Political Sign Regulations 

Prepared by: Jeffery G. Ulma, AICP, Planning Director

Adopted by Council: 03/24/2005

Effective: 01/13/2005 (date that the political sign ordinance amendment [05-002] was adopted)

Purpose:

To present the rationale upon which Town Council based its decision to amend the political sign regulations contained in Chapter 9 of the Land Development Ordinance (LDO).

Goals of Policy:

Chapter 9 of the Land Development Ordinance (LDO) contains all sign regulations for the Town of Cary .  Town Council adopted Ordinance No. 05-002 on January 13, 2005 that enacted numerous changes to the regulations for political signs.

The goal of this policy statement is to set forth the following intent and findings associated with these adopted political sign regulations. 

Statement of Intent and Findings:

During the 2004 election campaign, it came to the attention of the Town Council of the Town of Cary that provisions of the Town’s Land Development Ordinance pertaining to political signs may not adequately protect the rights of residents to express their views on public issues.  It is the intent of the Town Council in adopting a revised ordinance to correct any deficiencies that may exist, in a way that balances the interests of residents in expressing their views with the Town’s concern in minimizing visual obstructions and distractions for drivers and preserving the attractive physical environment that is a trademark of the Town.

In adopting these amendments, the Town Council makes the following specific findings:

·         Expressions of opinion on matters of public interest, including but not limited to advocacy for or against particular candidates or ballot issues, are the most important form of speech in our society.  For that reason, signs expressing views on public opinion should receive the most favorable possible treatment under the sign ordinance;

·         As recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ladue v. Gilleo, such signs are particularly valuable to allow individual residents to express their views on matters of public interest;

·         The Town has intentionally adopted extremely restrictive regulations on signs in both residential and nonresidential areas, but the Town Council recognizes the need to make those regulations more liberal for signs expressing views on public issues;

·         In particular, to protect the rights of our citizens, as defined by the Supreme Court and as we understand them from our own experience, we find that it is essential that we allow additional signs in residential neighborhoods to be used specifically for the expression of the views of residents on matters of public interest;

·         The residential neighborhoods of our Town, however, remain the areas in which our residents continually tell us that it is most important to reduce clutter and to maintain a pleasing aesthetic environment.  For that reason, it is essential that regulations permitting signs that express opinions on matters of public interest be subject to reasonable limits to prevent unnecessary visual clutter in the neighborhoods;

·         Traffic safety is of particular concern in residential neighborhoods, where young children often play in front yards and in other areas abutting the streets.  Although traffic loads on residential streets are typically lower than on other streets, the concerns with traffic safety on such streets are as great or greater than such concerns on the Town’s arterial streets and roads;

·         In this context, we believe that a regulation that allows only one sign per property or street frontage per candidate for office or side of a particular issue achieves a reasonable balance in these competing interests.  It allows for householders who disagree on a particular race or election  issue to express support for opposing candidates or opposing viewpoints, but it precludes an overly enthusiastic individual from posting multiple signs on the same property in support of the same candidate or issue;

·         We recognize that former limits tying the use of political signs to elections may have been too broad in their scope, and we have consciously included in these amendments various provisions that allow and ensure the expression of opinion on issues that are not now (or may not ever be) the subject of an election or referendum;

·         Most signs of this type in our community, however, do relate to an election.  A rule requiring that such signs be removed within a reasonable period after the election – at which point they are no longer expressing an opinion on a matter of public interest – furthers the Town’s interest in reducing clutter and is consistent with other provisions of the sign ordinance where we place time limits on other temporary signs and require the removal of abandoned signs; and

·         Our review of this subject led us to note that, although most real estate signs appear to be removed promptly after sale or lease of the property takes place, the Town ordinance does not currently require such removal; we have thus addressed this issue regarding the potential clutter of signs serving no purpose in this set of amendments.