The Edmond Sun

February 12, 2014

Former mayors push electronic sign repeal

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been udpated to reflect the correct number of signatures needed on the initiative petition.

Three former Edmond mayors joined forces Tuesday in filing an initiative petition against the City Council’s recent approval of the electronic sign ordinance. Randel Shadid, Dan O’Neil and Saundra Naifeh have 90 days to collect 634 signatures to send the issue to a vote of the people, said Steve Murdock, city attorney. Signatures must be given by Edmond residents.

The City Council voted 3-2 in January to allow electronic signs in commericial zoning districts. Councilwoman Elizabeth Waner and Councilman Darrell Davis voted against the item.

“These are three Edmond residents who have elected to do this,” Waner said. “It’s certainly within our policies and procedures to take this to the people. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. It’s a grand country where we can have these opportunities.”

Electronic message signs will be allowed in all zoning districts along arterial streets, as defined in the Master Transportation Study. These corridors are on Broadway, Second Street going east to Interstate 35, West Edmond Road and 33rd Street from Broadway to Boulevard, said Bob Schiermeyer, city planner.

Businesses would have to continue to ask for a variance if the initiative petition succeeds in bringing voters to reject the new sign ordinance, Shadid said.

“Those variances for gas stations make much sense. They’ve been granted,” Shadid said. “But what they’ve done with the new ordinance is to allow a message that changes every 30 seconds. So you get five or six of those on a street and people are trying to read messages. To me it’s as bad as texting from a safety standpoint.”

Mayor Charles Lamb said state statute would require a municipal election and not a national election date to repeal the electronic message sign ordinance.

“We’d have to figure that out and then the council would decide assuming they get their petition,” Lamb said. He said the wording of the petition poses questions related to the use of variances.

The petition states, “The question we submit to our fellow voters is: Shall the following ordinance be approved? Be it enacted by the people of Edmond that an ordinance amending Title 15 of municipal code to add a new chapter prohibiting electronic messaging signs and providing repealer and severability be approved as follows.

“Chapter 15.31a electronic messaging signs are prohibited in the city of Edmond, Oklahoma. Be any ordinance conflicting with this ordinance is hereby repealed.” Lamb said he believes the language of the petition prohibits electronic messaging signs.

“I don’t think that gives the council the latitude to grant variances anymore,” Lamb said.

The current sign ordinance defines three corridors to allow larger square footage and taller signs up to 25 feet in height and 77 square feet in width. Schiermeyer said the electronic message portion of the sign could consist of 75 percent of the allowed sign area.

“The electronic message sign ordinance passed by the City council is the most restrictive in Oklahoma City metro area,” said Nick Massey, city councilman. Old signs cannot be converted to EMC signs unless they meet current codes, he said.

“In other words, what is approved is basically just an electronic version of the display signs that are common throughout Edmond now,” Massey said.

A static message of no less than 30 seconds only will be allowed on the signs, according to the ordinance. The use of graphics on flashing signs will be prohibited.

“Only fully-conforming signs, as to the height, size, setback, landscaping standard, and number of signs, including pole cover standards, would be allowed to contain electronic messages,” according to the ordinance. “Any sign proposing an electronic message would have to be modified or requested as a fully compliant sign, with all sections of the current Sign Code.”

Massey has been a proponent of the sign ordinance because he believes it will bring more economic development to the community. The issue has been vetted thoroughly by two public workshops and a sign review committee, Massey said.

He said the passage of the sign ordinance was a fair compromise that included some, but not all, of what everybody wanted.

“I can’t help but wonder how former elected officials would have felt if their decisions were challenged with citizens attempting to overrule the vote of the City Council via a repeal initiative,” Massey said. “This is not good governing and sends a terrible message to our citizens and businesses.”

Naifeh said the electronic message sign ordinance decreases the high standards the city has used to regulate signage. The ordinance will have a considerable effect on the appearance of the city, she said.

“As a group, we feel strongly that allowing electronic message signage is a complex issue and, once this ordinance is instituted, we can’t go back,” Naifeh said. “Our plan is to let the people of Edmond decide what they want for their city.”

O’Neil said the electronic message signs will lead to larger ones, much like the billboards seen on interstates.

“Competition for the drivers’ attention will lead to more and more of these signs until Edmond resembles Las Vegas,” O’Neil said. “That is not the image we want to reflect in Edmond.”