ROCKWALL – The Rockwall City Council voted 5-2 last week to prohibit churches and other non-profit organizations within city limits from hanging Vacation Bible School banners and other free-standing signs on their own private property, beginning Oct. 1, 2013.
Only Mayor David Sweet and Council Member Michelle Smith cast dissenting votes, stating that they believe it is a property rights issue and that non-profits should not be told by the City what kind of signs they can make and display on their own private property.
Council members Bennie Daniels, Dennis Lewis, Mike Townsend, David White and Mark Russo voted to require churches and non-profits to have a “uniform look” and directed they can no longer make or display any free-standing signs on their own property away from their buildings except made with coroplast, supported by t-posts on each side, and no longer than 32 square feet in size.
They can hang banners and non-coroplast signs on their buildings.
Churches and other non-profits now have one year from Oct. 1, 2012 – when the new ordinance was passed – during which to make the necessary changes.
Feather Flags, not exceeding 12 feet in height, may be allowed in lieu of corrugated plastic signs, the new ordinance reads.
The Council voted to accept Russo’s suggestion to allow cloth, vinyl, metal or wood on-premise free-standing signs for the next 12 months so churches and non-profits will have time to prepare for and make any necessary changes.
Russo told TheRockwallNews.com that he doesn’t think the City should have any sign code ordinance and that the signs should be regulated by property owners and the free enterprise system, but apparently misunderstood the ordinance because he voted to support it.
“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,” Russo said. “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,” he added. “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.”
The new ordinance reads that a sign permit must be obtained by the church or non-profit for each sign before they can post it on street frontage. Signs must be placed a minimum of ten and one-half feet from the back of the curb and shall not be placed in the right-of-way. Non-profits and churches are subject to a citation if they display the sign for more than 14 days or don’t remove it within 24 hours of permit expiration.
Smith and Sweet explained further why they are opposed to the additions to the sign code ordinance.
“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,” Smith 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 Sweet summarized his feelings stating:
“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.”
TheRockwallNews.com attempted to obtain comments from several churches and non-profits across Rockwall but had no replies to our emails and phone calls. Church and non-profit property owners are invited to contact publisher J.J. Smith if they have comments by calling 214-317-1718.