Zoning Bylaw Working Group - Dec 12th, 2018

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The Zoning Bylaw Working Group had a special guest this morning: Rodger Eastman of Lisa Wise Consulting, who's working with the town to recodify the sign bylaws.

Rodger's presentation begins with a summary of project goals: to make our sign bylaws consistent with case law (e.g., Reed v Gilbert), to create clear and effective standards, and to have a sign code that's easy to understand, use, and administer.

Rodger provides an overview of Reed v Gilbert. Clyde Reed was a pastor in Gilbert, AZ. His small congregation didn't have a church, so they held service at various places around town. The church used temporary signs to announce the location of the next service, and was cited by the town for sign bylaw violations. Mr. Reed sued the town, and the case eventually went to the supreme court. The supreme court ruled (in a 9--0 decision) that sign regulations must be content-neutral. This introduces a new requirement to sign bylaws: laws oriented towards community aesthetics must now consider free speech rights.

Reed v Gilbert imposes strict scrutiny on temporary sign regulations. The state needs a very compelling reason for enforcement. Aesthetics do not meet the threshold for very compelling; the reasons must be grounded in public health, safety, or welfare.

The town began this project with a number of stakeholder interviews. Feedback included: the sign bylaws need to be better organized, they should allow more creativity in sign design, flexibility is important, and we need a more consistent permitting process.

Issues in the sign bylaw itself: there are many content-based regulations, the organization isn't terribly good, there's a lack of clarity around the administration process, there are no graphics or diagrams, the bylaws don't address newer sign technologies (e.g., electronic messaging centers), and there's no severability or substitution clauses.

Let's consider gas stations. Gas stations have to post prices; this requirement comes from state and consumer protection law. How would the town regulate these signs? We'd call them freestanding or monument signs, and follow the associated regulations.

We may want to add regulations for single-color LED signs.

LWC's report includes two examples of applying performance standards to signs. Municipalities identify sign characteristics they'd like to encourage. Applicants who adopt these characteristics are allowed to have a bigger sign. The town may want to consider this idea.

LWC should have a first draft of the recodified sign bylaw in January. There will be public review in February, ARB hearings in March, and town meeting in April.

There are open questions about the regulation of flags. Flags can be considered ideological messaging (e.g., the US flag vs the ISIS flag).

The town will not allow wind-driven signs, aka, "happy wavy guys".

How would signs for, say, Air BnB be regulated? They would fall under regulations for residential home business.

What about projections onto a building? Rodger is not aware of any communities that have chosen to regulate projected images.

How does one address the issue of changing technologies, without having to make frequent amendments to the bylaw? The key is to focus on impacts, rather than the technology.

The town will not be able to regulate signs on trucks. For example, Dunkin Donuts mobile billboard. But we could regulate where a truck parks, if it's being used as a sign.

The town may regulate human sign walkers, but we cannot regulate the right to picket.

LWC's report contains two proposals regarding administrative processes, and the town prefers the first proposal. There should be a calendar-day limit on the length of time for review. DPCD needs to discuss the time limit with inspectional services, to ensure that it's feasible.

Orange, CA typically has a 24-hour turn around for sign permits, if they're a standard kind of sign. Arlington will likely have a longer turn-around time, because there are several departments involved, each with its own schedule.

There's discussion about whether the ARB or ZBA should handle sign permits. To ensure consistency, we should designate one or the other. We'll need to look at the special permits section of the ZBL.

The ARB will discuss LWC's report during their next meeting.

DPCD provides an update on changes to residential zoning that are currently under consideration. The goal is to allow more density in the R4--R7 districts, and in the town's commercial corridors. Current plan is to reconsider dimensional regulations regarding height, open space, and lot area per dwelling unit. The ARB will discuss these topics at their next meeting.