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Public Notices

April 21, 2014

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Greeneville Eases Restrictions On
Business Signs Within City Limits

Originally published: 2013-12-18 10:30:57
Last modified: 2013-12-18 10:40:29

Historic District Sign Ordinance Tabled For More Consideration



A proposed new sign ordinance for the Town of Greeneville was approved unanimously on first reading Tuesday, but the Board of Mayor and Aldermen tabled a sign ordinance specific to the Historic District.

Greeneville Building Official Jeff Woods presented the sign ordinance, which he has been developing for the last eight months. He said it is more business-friendly than the existing requirements.

"I've been approached by several business-owners with sign issues, wanting to be able to advertise more," he said.

"I basically went through the sign ordinance, and I think everything that I've added is going to allow businesses in town to advertise a lot more."


The majority of the proposal matches the existing sign ordinance, Woods said.

The primary difference and biggest benefit, he said, is allowing businesses to place two temporary signs on their premises after obtaining a permit.

Woods said the changes are an effort to cut down on the number of illegal signs in the town, specifically temporary, off-premises signs.

Illegally-placed temporary signs, such as those off a business's premises or in a median or right of way, will still be collected by the Building Department and stored for up to two weeks for their owners to pick up, he explained.

Another change would allow businesses to place temporary outdoor banners after obtaining a permit, Woods said.


Another change allows for more signage in businesses' windows.

In the past, signs in windows counted toward the total square footage allowed for all of a business's signs.

The new ordinance would allow 12 square feet of temporary signage in a window.

Different business zonings would have different signage size requirements, as they always have, Woods said, but overall, the new guidelines allow approximately 50 square feet more for signs than in the past.


Another change would no longer allow large signs -- such as those advertising auctions often placed in highway medians -- to be placed in such areas, Woods said.

An addition to the ordinance, Woods said, is a section allowing for large special-event signs after approval by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

If approved on second and final reading, the new ordinance would allow special events -- such as the Iris Festival -- to have large, LED signs placed as advertisements with the approval of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.


During the public hearing, Kimberly "Critter" Malone, of Signs Plus, addressed the board.

Malone praised Woods and Building Inspector Bert Seay, saying that working with the current Building Department staff on sign issues is better at the present time than it has been at any other during her career.

"I've dealt with sign ordinances for 17 years. It's never been as easy as it is right now to work with Mr. Woods and Mr. Seay.

"They're extremely professional and very quick and courteous, and I greatly appreciate it. It's made my job much more enjoyable," she said.

Malone said her primary question about updates to the ordinance pertain to the large LED signs, as used in the past for events such as The Band Perry's album release concerts.

Malone requested that the board consider allowing the large, portable LED signs to be utilized by businesses and placed in city limits on a temporary basis.

Malone said her business is currently allowed to rent the large signs to customers in Greene County, but not inside Greeneville city limits.

Malone said that she would be willing to cooperate with requirements from the town, such as allowing businesses to place the large signs on their own premises but not along the roadway.

Churches and other organizations have tried to rent the signs to advertise plays, fundraisers or other events, Malone said.

"I'm not asking permission for them to be placed along the bypass. I'm not asking for permission to place them off-premises. Only if you would consider letting them just put it on their business property," Malone said.

"I've been asked so many times by local businesses, 'Please, bring your sign out. I've got something going on, and I need to advertise it,' and I tell them 'No,' and I turn those sales down time and time again," she said.

"I just think if they had the option, they would be greatly appreciative of it," she said.


As discussion drew to a close, Woods and board members noted that the proposed updates allow much more signage for businesses.

"All in all, this sign ordinance is allowing a lot more advertisement for our businesses," Woods said, explaining that the existing ordinance basically allows for a sign on the business, a sign on a pole outside the business or a banner on the business.

The changes, if approved on a final reading, are more business-friendly, board members said.

"It's much more friendly," Mayor W.T. Daniels said.

Alderman Buddy Hawk agreed, saying, "We need to be people-friendly and business-friendly."

Woods recommended that the board pass the ordinance as it was presented.

Daniels said the board could continue to consider Malone's request, and, if so desired, could amend the ordinance in the future.

Board members voted unanimously in favor of the changes as they were presented.


Immediately after taking action on the proposed sign ordinance updates, board members were prepared to review a sign ordinance specific to the Historic District, but Alderman Sarah Webster made a motion to table the issue.

Woods was prepared to present the ordinance, which he described as "kind of a mirror" of what Jonesborough has in place.

He noted that the Town has never had a sign ordinance specific to the Historic District before.

"In the past the sign ordinance has been the same across town," Woods said.

"This would break [out] the Historic District and make its own sign ordinance."

Webster referenced a memo from City Administrator Todd Smith that raised questions about ambiguity in the proposal which could present legal trouble for the town.


In the memo, Smith said, "The guidelines are quite subjective and open to interpretation that may put a business-owner at odds with a [Historic Zoning] Commission decision.

"For instance the Commission 'reserves the right to limit the number of words used in any particular sign.' A business-owner and the Commission may be at odds over the appropriate number of words in a sign."

Smith's memo added, "Most concerning about the open interpretation is the ability of the Historic Zoning Commission to rescind any sign approval within 60 days of installation.

"We want to encourage businesses to make investments in downtown. Approving an ordinance that may force a business to remove and re-install thousands of dollars worth of investment based on the judgment of a majority of the [Historic Zoning] Commission discourages investment in downtown."


Legally, Smith added, the ordinance presents challenges as well, as it is "overly vague as to what types of communications are being regulated and therefore could be construed as having an impermissible chilling effect on constitutionally protected free speech."

He noted that the ordinance "purports to prohibit 'offensive' words and messages without any limitation permitted under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Smith's memo said he recommends the board not approve the ordinance as proposed, as the current procedure -- the Certificate of Appropriateness procedure -- gives the Historic Zoning Commission control over signage in the Historic District.

Webster said that she had not seen Smith's memo prior to the meeting but understood and agreed with the concerns that it raised.

Woods said Town Attorney Ron Woods also had concerns about the proposal.

"I would recommend that today we don't approve one for the local Historic Zone and that the commission go back and try to re-work some of the things to take out some of the vagueness," Webster said.

With little discussion, aldermen voted unanimously to table the issue.

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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