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Sign ordinance gets ‘bunny amendment’ on first reading

The city is seeking to amend its sign ordinance, a move that would put limits and size restrictions on temporary signs residents can display on their property and create a new commercial corridor for signage along Highway 70 north of Stage Road.

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, the Bartlett Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved on first reading an amended sign ordinance that will require two more readings and a public hearing slated for Sept. 13.

The board also approved spending $49,750 with Barge Design Solutions Inc. to have sewage flow monitored as a precursor to increasing the size of two sewage holding tanks to be constructed on the site of Union Depot.

Increasing the size of those tanks by 30,000 gallons each would not only provide more than enough capacity for Union Depot, it would provide capacity for future development of three areas nearby, two off Kirby Whiten Road and one large undeveloped area east of First Horizon Bank and Highway 70.

It was the sign ordinance, though, that brought out strong feelings Tuesday night.

The ordinance would not regulate content on signs. It allows residents to display up to two temporary signs on their property for a combined period of no longer than 60 days per calendar year. These include political, social and special event signs. Such signs would be limited to 16 square feet in size and no taller than six feet from the ground.

Additionally, residents would be allowed to display holiday lights and decorations, including inflatables, up to 30 days before a nationally recognized holiday, or during any nationally recognized month-long commemoration-type event. Such decorations must be removed within seven days after the events.

Violations would incur a $50 fine per day of noncompliance with the ordinance.

On flagpoles, the sign ordinance allows one flagpole with two noncommercial flags per pole per lot in residential districts. No flag shall exceed 5 feet by 8 feet and flagpoles can be no higher than 25 feet. Within commercial and industrial districts, “one flagpole and two flags per pole per 100 feet of frontage on a right-of-way, up to a maximum of six flag poles and 12 flags.” Maximum height for these flags is 80 feet.

Alderman Mandy Young had several questions, including if American flags were allowed – which they are – and asked if she had a bunny decoration in her yard, would code enforcement assume it was for Easter and come take it if it was not Easter season.

Kim Taylor, Planning Commission director, said the ordinance would limit the display of said bunny to 30 days, with seven days to remove it.

Alderman Kevin Quinn, who has two signs in his yard supporting Bartlett athletics and Bartlett fine arts, proposed an amendment to the ordinance, which he dubbed “the bunny amendment,” asking that section 4-A be changed so residents can display lights and holiday decorations for 60 days instead of 30.

The amendment was approved.

Quinn then sought another amendment, to strike or change words in section 4-D that reads: “Within residential districts, temporary freestanding signs shall be limited to two per lot at any given time and a display period not to exceed sixty days per lot for all such signs in any calendar year.”

When Quinn sought to strike the words “display period not to exceed sixty days per lot for all such signs in any calendar year,” Alderman and Vice Mayor Jack Young asked if that meant people would be able to put up a sign that could stay forever.

“I can see a lot of people putting up a lot of different things,” Jack Young said. “I have no problem with extending the other section to 60 days.”

In the end, no additional amendments were added to the ordinance on first reading, but others may be coming by second reading Aug. 23, as Mandy Young also was suggesting changes in the ordinance’s verbiage.

The issues of freedom of speech/expression and protecting property values from inappropriate yard displays were clashing.

“I don’t want to see any signs for 60 days,” Bartlett resident Shirley Jackson said during the public comment period. “It’s too much. We still have political signs at Harmony Church,” she said, referring to the early voting site on St. Elmo Road.

Mayor Keith McDonald said he understands freedom of speech and property rights and his grandfather taught him that “my rights stop right where your nose starts.”

“If you are putting things up in your yard that bring down my property value, you are impeding on my rights,” McDonald said. “I would just ask everyone to consider that as we go through this discussion.” 

Bartlett resident Lou Geater said he didn’t want to see the city trying to over-regulate signs, which he says are everywhere, and applauded Quinn and Mandy Young for suggesting changes.

“If left the way it stands now, it gives neighbors license to call on their neighbor because they don’t like what the sign says,” Geater said. “And I don’t buy this argument that that’s going to bring down somebody’s property value.”

The sign ordinance also would allow those with commercial property on Highway 70, up to 2,000 feet north of Stage, to erect signs on their property if they have at least 5 acres, 1,000 feet of frontage and their land is zoned O-R-I.

That means the mixed-use Union Row development on the former Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home property would be allowed to erect a ground sign of a maximum 200 square feet in size, 10 feet in width and 20 feet in height.

Keith Grant and his development team have not yet submitted any sign requests for Union Depot.

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