By Allen Edmonds
Political signs may soon become an even more common sight in the future after a vote of the Belton City Council last month, and second-reading approval Tuesday.
For years, local municipalities have limited the display of campaign signs to candidates or issues on the local ballot and to 30 days before the election in question. Those signs must be removed within 7 days after the election, according to current code.
But a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that restrictions based on the content of a sign are a violation of the First Amendment, and thus unconstitutional. Therefore, if a sign meets a municipality’s sign regulations regarding size, materials, placement, lighting and so forth, it can’t be restricted based on the message.
“So that means we can have signs all over Belton from here on?” asked Councilmember Lorrie Peek. Yes, indicated City Planning Director David Clements, though he said city staff is looking at revising the city’s entire sign code.
The change was part of a series of changes to the city’s Unified Development Code that came before the council on Dec. 8, following a public hearing and the eventual approval of the city’s Planning Commission.
Also included in the changes were new definitions to help with enforcement activities in connection with abandoned signs (particularly signs advertising businesses that are no longer at the location), new details added to the maintenance clause, text defining standards for the use of murals in the Old Town Belton Overlay District, and text allowing for the use of decorative metal security fencing for properties larger than 10 acres within commercial and industrial districts.
The discussion covered a few little-known facts regarding the city’s sign ordinance, as well. According to Clements, vehicle signs are technically prohibited in the city, but in reality, that code is only enforced when a vehicle bearing a sign advertising a business is parked on the right-of-way next to a street, making the vehicle sign in fact a second sign for the business.
In addition, “snipe signs,” the small pop-up signs that appear on right-of-ways advertising such things as diet plans and home-buying services are illegal throughout the city.
City Councilman Dave Clark asked for tougher consequences for violations of the snipe sign provisions.
“Can we get some monetary punishment on, especially for the snipe signs? A lot of the people that put these signs up don’t even have business licenses in the City of the Belton, and then we just allow them to be everywhere,” Clark said.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Girl Scouts, but they have signs up everywhere and I don’t think they should be up either. If they’re in somebody’s yard, I get it, but they’re in the right-of-way everywhere.”
City Manager Alexa Barton said what staff normally does is contact the offender and notify the individual or organization that the city has picked up its signs repeatedly and a notice of violation could be issued if it continues.
“And that typically works,” she said.
“I know somebody that’s not going to be getting any Girl Scout cookies,” Davis quipped to Clark.
The meeting was held virtually. It was peppered with online service interruptions which prevented some members from hearing all that occurred and prevented others from being heard occasionally.
“You gotta pay that electric bill,” Mayor Jeff Davis teased Councilmember Chet Trutzel at one point after Trutzel’s feed had been disconnected from the meeting, then re-connected.