City considers change to sign regulations

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth city officials are considering whether to allow political signs, and other temporary signs, to be placed in public rights-of-way.

Currently, the city’s sign regulations do not allow any signs to be placed in rights-of-way. But Julie Hurley, director of planning and community development, told city commissioners this week that she is trying to bring sign regulations in line with state law.

A state law states, “No city or county shall regulate or prohibit the placement of or the number of political signs on private property or the unpaved right-of-way for city streets or county roads on private property during the 45-day period prior to any election and the two-day period following any such election.”

While the state law addresses political signs, Hurley said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled sign regulations cannot be content specific. She said the city cannot allow signs for one type of content while prohibiting others.

Hurley, who has been working with the Leavenworth city attorney, proposes changing city sign regulations to allow temporary signs within the public rights-of-way 45 days before each election and two days after the election.

“This is going to apply to any temporary sign,” she said.

This means signs advertising things such as services for hire and jobs also would be permitted.

Hurley said other cities in the area have taken similar action in order to comply with the state law.

Hurley said state law allows cities to regulate setbacks for signs and the size of signs for safety and visibility reasons.

She proposes requiring signs to be set back six feet from curbs and prohibiting signs from being placed where they would interfere with sight distances for intersections. She also proposes prohibiting signs from being placed on utility poles, trees, street lights, bridges, benches or other public structures.

Hurley also proposes limiting the sizes of the temporary signs to six square feet of face area and no more than four feet in height.

Commissioners took no action this week on the proposal. City Manager Paul Kramer said the issue probably will be reviewed by commissioners again during a future study session. And the matter will have to be taken before the Leavenworth Planning Commission.

Commissioner Mark Preisinger questioned whether the City Commission could use home rule to opt of the state law and maintain its existing regulations.

City Clerk Carla Williamson said the law would have to be non-uniform in how its applied to all cities across the state in order for the Leavenworth City Commission to invoke home rule.

While the proposed change to city regulations is not specific to political signs, Preisinger said the issue is really about political signs.

“This thing is written for political signs,” he said. “It’s not written for a garage sale."

He said people would only be allowed to place signs in rights-of-way during the political season.

“I think it stinks is what I think,” Preisinger said.

Commissioner Mike Griswold asked Hurley about political flags.

Hurley said regulations for political signs do not apply to flags.

“It’s a flag and by definition does not count as a political sign,” she said.

This is not the first time commissioners have discussed the state law regarding the placement of political signs in rights-of-way.

Commissioners discussed the issue in 2016. At that time, they decided to continue to prohibit signs from being placed in rights-of-way because the state law conflicted with U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

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