Temporary sign ordinance going through changes

By Eric Grosso

NEWTON FALLS — Newton Falls will change the way it enforces an ordinance on temporary signs in the city.

Law Director Richard Schwartz announced the change on Tuesday. Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission are looking to have a rewritten ordinance in front of council in October.

Problems stemmed from conflicting language in multiple sections in the current ordinance.

One section lists certain temporary signs as allowed in the city, including real estate signs, garage sale signs, political signs and noncommercial signs. Another section, however, lists all mobile signs as prohibited and defines a mobile sign as “any sign that can be carried by one or two people.”

“By our definitions as it stands, all temporary signs in the city are illegal,” Mayor Pat Layshock said.

The original intent of the ordinance, Layshock added, was to prohibit commercial use of yellow A-frame signs, including businesses using the temporary signs in a permanent manner.

Zoning officials have come into conflict with non-profit groups using yellow A-frame signs to promote upcoming events.

On Tuesday, Schwartz said the city had been enforcing the ordinance incorrectly. He said exemptions listed in the ordinance should have been allowed and the wording defining an illegal mobile sign should not take precedence.

“I won’t file charges based on how I’m interpreting the ordinance,” said Schwartz.

“We’ve had city people going after signs from the Fourth of July Parade, community baseball leagues, senior resident facilities and church groups,” noted Layshock, saying the city has “taken what was a nonissue in the past and made it into an issue.”

Layshock noted the city had started enforcement against A-frame signs this year due to the hiring of a code enforcement officer.

Layshock had proposed potential legislation last month that included language prohibiting signs “except as otherwise permitted,” which would stop the two parts of the original ordinance from conflicting with each other.

It also said a temporary permit must be obtained for each sign used by a nonprofit or charitable organization. Permits would allow signs to be used for seven days with no permit fee, and four permits per year would be permitted.

Council member Thomas Moorehead said Layshock was trying to “circumvent the system” by bringing the ordinance up for a vote before it went to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“This is why people don’t come out for the commission,” said Moorehead, noting recent unfilled seats on the commission.

Council member Ralph Gillespie motioned that ordinance to be taken off of the agenda so it could be looked at more in depth. Gillespie and the commission are looking at having another meeting before bringing it back to council.

“Its not really a priority now that summer is almost over,” said Gillespie.

Gillespie said the commission met earlier this month and the discussion over new wording of an ordinance led to numerous “what if” situations. The commission could not yet come up with any “concrete wording” that would be brought back to council.

He said a new ordinance would be brought back to council at the Sept. 16 or Oct. 6 meeting.

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