The 71 Brainerd residents who got notices from the city to remove signs in their yard at the end of February will likely be able to keep those signs up as long as they follow new guidelines.
The city’s planning commission revisited Brainerd’s sign ordinance Wednesday, March 17, after complaints from residents who were asked to remove signs from their yards.
Community Development Director David Chanski got several complaints about signs — mostly political ones — earlier this year, resulting in letters to dozens of residents notifying them about the city’s sign ordinance.
According to city code as it reads, non-commercial speech signs are allowed during election seasons. The ordinance, however, does not differentiate between political and non-political signs, which is why residents with any sort of non-commercial speech sign in their yards got a notice from the city.
After complaints about the letters, the city council — while acknowledging Chanski and his department acted according to city code — directed the planning commission to revisit the ordinance, citing concerns over freedom of speech and unnecessary government regulation.
Chanski presented several sign ordinance changes to the planning commission Wednesday, noting guidance from previous court cases as well as the League of Minnesota Cities cautions against regulating sign content and says city ordinances cannot favor commercial speech over non-commercial speech.
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The changes Chanski proposed refer to signs that do not require a permit.
“We’re not necessarily looking to regulate people’s speech,” Chanski said. “But we’re also looking out for the safety and aesthetics and vitality of our community, and signs can have a negative impact.”
Signs are defined in the ordinance as “any letter, word or symbol, poster, picture, statuary, reading matter or representation in the nature of advertisement, announcement, message or visual communication, whether painted, posted, printed, affixed or constructed, including all associated brackets, braces, supports, wires and structures, which is displayed for informational or communicative purposes.”
Under the changes, residents would be allowed to have two ground-mounted signs and two flags per property. Signs would not be allowed to exceed 6 square feet in area or 3 feet in height and may not be in the public right of way. For simplicity’s sake, Chanski wrote that signs must be at least 15 feet back from the curb, as that will ensure they are not within the right of way in most cases. Signs cannot hinder the visibility triangle, which would occur if a sign on the corner lot obstructs the view of a driver coming up to an intersection, and cannot be illuminated.
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There would not be a size restriction on flags. While he has received complaints over the content of flags, Chanski said he has never had a complaint over the size.
There would still be a caveat for campaign signs though, with property owners allowed to have more than the allotted two ground-mounted signs that could be bigger than 6 square feet and higher than 3 feet during election seasons. These relaxed rules would be in effect from 46 days before a state primary in a general election year until 10 days following the general election and 13 weeks prior to a special election until 10 days following the special election.
The original changes Chanski brought to the commission allotted for only two signs on a property, including flags. But commission members Theresa Woodward and Tad Erickson said they felt only allowing two was too little if flags were included as signs, leading to the decision of allowing two ground-mounted signs and two flags.
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Chanski said the reasoning behind the size and number limits is for aesthetic reasons.
“Do we want someone to have a yard full of signs?” Chanski asked. “We’re still allowing them to have signs, allowing them to express their speech, but we’re just restricting a number.”
Commission member Don Gorham said he wanted to make sure the ordinance was as simple as possible for residents to understand and follow.
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With the minor changes made to the number of signs allowed, the commission agreed they were satisfied with the amendments and directed Chanski to draw up an official amendment for the city council’s review. The council is the final authority on ordinance amendments, which will be discussed in a public hearing for resident feedback before adoption.
The city council’s next meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 5.