Should City Council dictate kind of signs churches can have on private church property?
ROCKWALL – Does the Rockwall City Council have the right to dictate to churches and non-profit organizations what kind of temporary signs they may place on their own private property?
Does the Council have the right to order that churches and non-profits in Rockwall can no longer place banners on their own private property?
Do Council members have the right to force churches and non-profits on their own private property to make temporary signs only out of coroplast so all church and non-profit signs will look uniform across the city?
Do Council members have the right to force a church or non-profit to take down a temporary sign on their private property if a word is misspelled?
That’s what Rockwall residents need to decide quickly – because at least some City Council members seem to believe they have the right to determine what churches and non-profits can display on their own private property.
The Council decided by a 4-3 vote at their most recent regular meeting, Sept. 6, not to allow churches and non-profits to hang banners on their own private property. The failure was, in part, due to the public discussion that uniformity would be made in one year of all on and off premise signage to coroplast only.
What else will Council members attempt to dictate next regarding the private property of churches, organizations, businesses or citizens?
This Monday the Council will decide how long the churches and non-profits have to phase out any temporary signs they may be using and replace them with standard coroplast signs.
Unless somebody stops them.
From what TheRockwallNews.com has learned, Council members Bennie Daniels, Mike Townsend and David White apparently believe that all temporary church and non-profit organization signs should be made of coroplast so they look uniform. They also seem to believe that they have the right as Council members to dictate to churches and non-profits what kind of temporary signs they can and can’t have on their private property.
None of the three responded to email requests from TheRockwallNews.com earlier this week asking why they believed that they have that right.
Mayor David Sweet, Dennis Lewis and Michelle Smith, on the other hand, voted to allow churches and non-profits to use banners so long as they are not safety hazards because they should be able to determine what they can and can’t use on their own property.
Outgoing member Mark Russo said agrees with those three. In fact, he told TheRockwallNews.com that he believes there should be absolutely no restrictions regarding temporary signs, because this is a private property issue. He said he voted against the proposal for that reason.
“If it’s private property, then the property owners have the right to decide what their temporary signs should look like and be made of. Council members have no right to tell them what they can or can’t do unless it pertains to safety or state laws.”
“Frankly, the whole sign ordinance issue is a mess,” continued Russo. “We’ve tried to correct mistakes from the past, but now it’s just a big mess. For example, metal signs are not supposed to be allowed in the new ordinance. However we allow metal home builder signs on weekends.”
Michelle Smith said she agrees that it is a private property issue.
“If the signs are on private property, the churches should be able to decide what kind of signs and what kind of materials they will use,” she said. “At first I was okay with requiring a setback rule from the road and establishment of some guidelines. After thinking about it, I no longer believe that the Council should dictate to the churches or non-profits what they can and cannot use on their private property.”
“Helping with many 501c3 non-profit organizations myself, I believe this could cause an undue hardship on 501c3 organizations which are doing their best in these tough economic times to help our community,” she added.
Mayor David Sweet told TheRockwallNews.com that the sign ordinance has been a problem for several years in Rockwall. Because so many people complained to the City in the past about the shoddy appearance of the banners and signs on Ridge Rd. & I-30 and at Hwy. 66 just before crossing the bridge, Council ruled that they could no longer be posted there.
“Now I think the Council is overreaching,” said Mayor Sweet. “Private property is private property. The City Council shouldn’t be telling the churches and non-profits what they can and can’t make signs out of. If churches want to make and place tacky signs in front of their buildings, that’s their business.”
“Of course we do have to have some zoning laws and ordinances to protect the city,” he continued. “But we should let them self-enforce. Let the free market decide. Chances are that people will be less likely to visit a church or non-profit if they have poor-looking signs out front.”
Russo and Smith said they agree that the city needs to let the free market work.
Will Rockwall church and non-profit leaders object to the Council telling them what they can do on private property? No churches or non-profits have yet contacted TheRockwallNews.com about this issue.
Mayor Sweet said he has not heard from any either; nor has he heard from anyone else about the private property issue.
“Most everything that Council members do is “a process, a work in progress,” he added.
“If residents don’t like our decisions, all they have to do is contact me and other Council members to tell us how they feel. Our decisions are all subject to change.”
If anybody wants to stop Council members from dictating to churches and non-profits what kinds of temporary signs they can use, contact Mayor Sweet or City Council members now so they’ll know how to vote Monday and in the future.
Call them via the City at 972-771-7700. Their email addresses are listed on the City website at: http://www.rockwall.com/MayorCouncil/index.asp
By J. J. Smith, Publisher
Apparently this reporter misunderstood Mayor David Sweet and incorrectly quoted him in the above article where the 2 bold face paragraphs are. For that I sincerely apologize. The Mayor explained that I mixed up sign regulations and banner regulations, which he said are completely different.
Mayor Sweet wrote in a text early this afternoon: “I completely support sign ordinances across the board with opportunity to request variances.”
The way I should have quoted him in the above article is the following, which he just texted to me:
“I have been part of this discussion about regulation banners for a couple of years now. Several of our residents complained to me about the banners along Ridge Rd. at I-30, as well as the ones at Lakeshore and 66.”
“Obviously as we made some of the changes we didn’t address the usage of on-site banners on private property, such as VBS banners used by churches. The vast majority of those banners are pre-made, are only for limited amount of times and I believe the organization could manage the appearance of those signs.”
“I have no problems with the regulations we have implemented in other cases with banners and obviously these changes have nothing to do with regular signage. We regulate size, the type of materials, the number of signs per location and already have a variance process in place, and I am fine with that.”
Again, I apologize for my misunderstanding and miscommunication.
By J.J. Smith, Publisher