Lakeway City Council tables changes to sign ordinances due to complexity and concerns

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A proposed set of sign ordinances could rid Lakeway of content-based sign regulations and add more specific terms and exemptions, but its complexity triggered concerns from both the public and council members at the June 18 City Council meeting.

A city cannot treat commercial signs more favorably than noncommercial signs, City Attorney Laura Mueller said during the meeting.

Additionally a city cannot apply content-based restrictions on signs unless there is proven to be a “compelling government interest” as well as a “narrowly tailored regulation,” Mueller said. That sets a high bar on the city’s end, she said. What a city can do, however, is regulate the size, location, number and design of signs as well as put time restrictions on signs.

The proposed amendments to city ordinances would adopt a stricter standard to improve the city’s scenery, Mueller said. It would also apply different sets of regulations to temporary signs in commercial and residential areas.

Among the proposed regulations, one concerns putting up additional temporary signs during election seasons. Property owners in residential areas may apply for four additional signs no larger than 3 square feet for up to a 90-day period, whereas those in commercial areas may apply for any number of additional signs no larger than 9 square feet for the same period of time.

The reason behind this regulation, Mueller said, is to allow people the chance to voice their support for candidates during elections. However, these additional signs do not have to be political signs, she said.

Several residents spoke against the complexity of the proposed amendments, including newly appointed committee and board members Greg Holloway and Tammy Stanley.

Regulation of signs is necessary, Holloway said, but the amended ordinances need to be enforceable.

Stanley said the complexity of sign regulations would burden code enforcers and business owners as well as deter those who want to conduct businesses in Lakeway.

Lakeway resident Tom Kilgore advocated for the city’s rejection of the proposal. The regulations should be applied in an “even-handed manner,” he said, arguing that the proposed amendments include too many distinctions. He also said the city should do as little as possible to regulate signs, referencing the First Amendment.

“I as a citizen have the right to petition my government or make a claim at any time,” Kilgore said. “I do not need city permission to apply to put that sign up and pay a fee if required, and then have it approved for a certain period of time.”

On the council several members hesitated to approve the proposed amendments. Council Member Steven Smith expressed frustration that keeping track of the 90-day period during election seasons would be burdensome.

“I want to just keep it as simple as we can … and not invite a whole bunch of lawsuits,” Smith said.

Council Member Keith Trecker echoed this by referring to the considerable amount of elections at federal, state and local levels each year.

The issue was eventually tabled, with all council members agreeing to simplify the sign regulations to better the ordinances, such as by removing all seven-day and 90-day clauses, capping the number of signs at four and classifying brochure boxes as commercial signs. The issue will come back to the next City Council meeting in July.

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Yue "Stella" Yu covers Lake Travis, Westlake, Leander and Cedar Park. She is a journalism student at University of Missouri. Prior to this summer, she was a city government reporter at Columbia Missourian. Three things she loves the most: jazz, dogs and community journalism. Feel free to reach out at 573-529-5725 or email her at yyu@communityimpact.com
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