Planning board makes progress on sign ordinance changes

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
City of Marco Island Government Center sign.

The Marco Island City Council may soon have another crack at discussing changes to its sign ordinance that were prompted as a result of a case that appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015.

For months, the planning board has talked extensively about changes to the city’s sign ordinance as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Reed vs. the Town of Gilbert, Ariz.

Kathy Mehaffey, an attorney with Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Cole & Bierman, presented the latest changes to the Planning Board on Friday, but with little time to digest them, the board elected to continue its discussion to their next meeting before forwarding it to the council for approval.

The Supreme Court’s decision allows regulation of the time, place and manner of signs, but not the message content, which meant changes to how sign codes operate throughout the country.

“For years, the courts said we could regulate based on the purpose of the sign especially with temporary signs we had things like political signs, etc.,” Mehaffey said. “Under the new rule, we cannot use those concepts anymore. That completely changes how we regulate and also we have the requirement that we have to provide for non-commercial speech the ability to for everybody to speak when it’s not commercially related.”

More:Marco Island City Council rejects divisive sign ordinance

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Board chairman Erik Brechnitz said it was his preference to send a completed package to the council, but there was some pressure to move the ordinance along ahead of the political season since election signage could be affected.

Last month, the sign ordinance appeared on a City Council agenda despite the fact that the board had yet to finish making changes to the ordinance and was rejected by a 6-1 vote.

A few councilors balked at the stringent regulations, referring to them as government overreach, but the court’s decision has prompted changes throughout the country.

Mehaffey told the planning board on Friday that she has yet to encounter a client that has elected not to make changes to its sign ordinances, though the level of reform differed from entity to entity.

“The majority of my cities are trying to figure out how to approach it,” Mehaffey said. “A lot of cities have done major changes in the 2010/2012/2014 era which addressed a number of the changes that came out of the 2015 changes.”

Based upon recent case law, Mehaffey said that courts were coming down hard on local governments that violate the First Amendment, which she noted was very easy to do.