Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Item # 2 Project No. Zone Change 2008Z-023T Name Digital and LED Signs Council Bill BL2007-152 Council District Countywide School District N/A Requested by Councilmember Charlie Tygard Staff Reviewer Regen Staff Recommendation Disapprove. APPLICANT REQUEST A request to amend the Metro Zoning Code, Section 17.32.050.G and H to allow digital and LED (i.e. electronic) signs in certain areas of Davidson County. History At the March 13, 2008, meeting the Planning Commission approved a motion to reconsider this item with a Public Hearing at the March 27, 2008, meeting. ANALYSIS Existing Law Section 17.32.050.G and H of the Zoning Code regulate signs with graphics, messages, and motion. The two sections contain provisions that appear contradictory and are difficult for the Codes Department to enforce. Currently, scrolling, flashing, and changeable copy signs are generally prohibited in all zoning districts except CS and CL, with one exception. Time/date/ temperature signs are permitted in all non-residential zoning districts provided they remain fixed, static, motionless, and non-flashing for a period of two seconds or more. Proposed Bill The proposed bill would provide that electronic signs are permitted in all zoning districts, including residentially zoned properties located along a collector or arterial street, as shown on the adopted Major Street Plan. Since the Planning Commission last reviewed this bill on February 28, 2008, the Metro Council adopted an amendment to it on March 4, 2008. The amendment restricts electronic signs in residential districts to religious institutions, community education facilities, cultural centers, and recreation centers. As written, the bill adds provisions to subsection G to require the display of an electronic sign to remain static for eight seconds and requires a transition between displays of less than two seconds. The bill would also add a prohibition for digital billboards that are less than 2,000 feet apart from one another. Because of the conflicting language in subsections G and H of the current Code, it is unclear whether digital billboards currently are permitted. Under this ordinance, they would be permitted so long as they comply with the amended provisions of subsection G. Current subsection H is deleted from the Code and replaced with a new section H that would: 1) clarify that video and other animated signs are prohibited in all districts except for the CA zoning district; and 2) permit LED message boards on collector and arterial streets in all residential zone districts. The term “electronic sign” embraces a couple different technologies seen in Metro that have been recently installed, including digital signs and LED signs. Digital signs have color and animation with a TV picture quality such as the one on West End Avenue at 30th Avenue, North, or the Nova Copy sign along I-40 in downtown Nashville. Unlike digital signs, LED signs are not multi-color. LED signs have red or amber-colored lights and lettering on message boards such as those at a drugstore or businesses which display date, time, and temperature. Proposed Text This council bill proposes to amend Section 17.32.050.G and H. of the Zoning Code (Prohibited Signs) as follows: G. Signs with any copy, graphics, or digital displays that change messages by electronic or mechanical means, when where the copy, graphics, or digital display does not remain fixed, static, motionless, and nonflashing for a period of two (2) seconds or more eight (8) seconds, provided that this provision shall not be applicable to any sign located within the CA district with a change time of less than two (2) seconds. Digital display billboards less than two thousand (2,000) feet apart, and digital billboards that are not in compliance with the provisions of section 17.32.150, are also prohibited. H. billboards in permitted districts, or signs located in ON, OL, OG, OR20, OR40, ORI, MUN, MUL, MUG, SCN, SCC, CN and CL districts with lights or illuminations that flash, move, rotate, scintillate, blink, flicker or vary in intensity or color except for time/temperature/date signs. This provision shall also apply to all signs located within one hundred feet of property classified within a residential district. H.1. Video, continuous scrolling messages, and animation signs, except in the commercial attraction (CA) district. H.2. LED message boards in residential zoning districts. Notwithstanding the foregoing, LED message boards shall be allowed for community education facilities, cultural centers, recreation centers, and religious institutions located on collector or arterial streets in residential zoning districts Analysis In the past few years, there have been three council bills to permit electronic signs; two failed to receive Council support and one was adopted (see table below). All three bills were recommended for disapproval by the Metro Planning Commission. While this latest bill does create more restrictive display periods for electronic signs, it still does not provide adequate protection for residential areas in which these signs may be located. SIGN BILLS Bill # Sponsor Council Action MPC Action Description BL2005-648 Dozier Failed 3rd reading 1/17/06 Disapproved 12/8/05 Permit signs with graphics or electronic displays oriented to a four-lane or controlled access highway maintained by the State of Tennessee and located within the urban services district (USD), with a speed limit of forty miles per hour (40 m.p.h.) or less. BL2006-974 Dozier, Wallace Withdrawn 7/18/06 Disapproved 2/23/06 Permit signs with graphics or electronic displays oriented to a four-lane or controlled access highway maintained by the State of Tennessee and located within the urban services district (USD), with a speed limit of forty miles per hour (40 m.p.h.) or less. BL2007-1366 Brown Approved Disapproved 2/22/07 To allow signs with lights or illuminations that flash, move, rotate, scintillate, blink, flicker or vary in intensity or color within the CL zoning district. Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, signs with lights or illuminations that display non-scrolling and non-flashing electronic text shall be permitted within the CL district, provided the text remains static for at least three seconds and the sign is not located within four hundred feet of any residential property with frontage on the same street. As written, the current bill would allow electronic signs on collector and arterial streets in residential zoning districts. Such electronic signs would be permitted up to eight (8) feet tall, up to 192 square feet of total sign area, up to three (3) electronic signs depending on a property’s street frontage, and with no restriction on the amount of sign area devoted to the changeable copy. Further, the bill provides no standards for illumination, hours of operation, distance from a residential use, and variation in colors and hues. The Zoning Administrator has indicated that the Codes Department considers electronic signs and billboards to be illegal under the current Metro Code sign provisions because, in application, most such signs violate the provisions of subsection H in the current law, which prohibits signs with “lights or illuminations that flash, move, rotate, scintillate, blink, flicker or vary in intensity or color.” This bill proposes to permit digital signs and digital billboards like those recently erected along I-65 near 100 Oaks Mall, I-24 westbound in Hermitage, and elsewhere in Metro. According to the Zoning Administrator, all of these digital signs and billboards are on private property, except Metro’s convention center sign which is on public property. Those signs erected with a valid Metro permit were approved with the explicit statement that such signs were not to be digital. The proposed bill would clarify that digital billboards are allowed so long as the display message remains static or fixed for 8 seconds or more, the transition time between messages is two seconds or less, and digital billboards are spaced a minimum of 2,000 feet apart. STAFF RECOMMENDATION Staff recommends disapproval of the bill as drafted because electronic signs would be permitted without adequately safeguarding Nashville’s neighborhoods. When the Zoning Code’s sign provisions were adopted by the Metro Council in the early 1990’s, electronic signs did not exist. That said, the Planning Department does not believe the Zoning Code was intended to be interpreted to permit such signs now or in the future. The provisions of Section 17.32.050.G and H are broad enough to encompass this latest sign technology, and they expressly prohibit it. This is a complex and difficult issue. A draft alternate ordinance is appended to this staff report, below. The draft alternate ordinance also is not recommended for approval by staff, but is presented for the Planning Commission’s consideration. The draft alternate ordinance would amend the Zoning Code to allow electronic signs in residential districts subject to a special exception use, electronic signs by right in various commercial districts, and electronic billboards by right in certain districts. If the commission recommends the draft alternate ordinance for approval, staff suggests that the recommendation should include a recommendation that two separate council bills be drafted to enable Metro Council to consider the signs in their appropriate zoning context. 1) electronic signs in residential areas; and 2) electronic signs for commercial areas and billboards. The Planning Commission may also want to look at the proximity of billboards to residential uses. Lastly, staff recommends that if the Metro Council amends the Zoning Code to permit these signs, the current council bill, or any new bill introduced, should include a provision expressly stating that none of these existing electronic and digital signs and billboards, including existing signs and billboards which may be converted to electronic in the future are grandfathered in, and that they must all comply with the applicable provisions of the adopted council bill within thirty (30) days after the bill’s passage. Draft Alternate Ordinance 1. Modify Section 17.04.060 “Definitions of General Terms” by inserting the following new definition in alphabetical order: “Community Facility” means a community education, cultural center, recreation center, or religious institution. 2. Modify Section 17.04.060 “Definitions of General Terms” by inserting the following new definitions in alphabetical order under the word “Sign” and after the phrase “These terms regarding signs are referenced”, renumbering the existing terms accordingly. “Electronic Changeable Copy Sign” means a sign that displays electronic, non-pictorial text information in which each character, graphic, or symbol (“display”) can be changed without altering the face or surface of the sign using an electronic means such as light emitting diode (LED) display, plasma screen, liquid crystal display (LCD), fiber optic or other electronic media or technology. All copy shall be displayed in one color with no hues, and remain fixed or static for at least eight (8) seconds before changing. All copy changes must be accomplished instantaneously without any special effects. At no time shall any sign display area have varying light illumination and/or intensity, blinking, bursting, dissolving, distorting, fading, flashing, oscillating, rotating, shimmering, scrolling, sparkling, streaming, traveling, tracing, twinkling, simulated movement, or convey the illusion of movement. “Electronic Graphic Display Sign” means the same as “Electronic Changeable Copy Sign” except static images, graphics and/or pictures may be displayed in one or more colors and hues. “Electronic Video Display Sign” means a sign that changes copy or background using varying light illumination, intensity, or a progression of pictorial or graphic frames in either a continuous or animated presentation to display motion, action, special effects, or pictorial imagery in one or more colors and hues. “Manual Changeable Copy Sign” means a sign whose copy is or can be changed manually or mechanically in the field by the use of detachable letters, numbers, or symbols. “Sign Copy” means any words, letters, numbers, figures, characters, symbols, logos, emblem, flag, background, or insignia that are used on a sign display surface area. 3. Modify Section 17.32.090.A by renaming it and amending the language, inserting a new subsection B, and renumbering existing subsection B as C (Signs: On-Premise Signs for Non-Residential Uses in Agricultural and Residential Districts) as follows: A. Signs. All on-premise signs located in a residential district shall conform to the sign provisions applicable to the ON district, except as provided below in Section 17.32.090.B for a community facility use desiring an electronic changeable copy sign. Ground signs shall be monument signs with a maximum height of eight (8) feet at grade-level measured at the location where the sign will be erected. The minimum street setback shall be fifteen feet; the sign shall not encroach into required side setbacks of the district; and only one such ground sign shall be permitted per street frontage. B. Electronic Changeable Copy Signs. Following approval of a special exception by the Board of Zoning Appeals community facilities located in residential districts shall be permitted only one ground monument electronic changeable copy sign for the entire facility, regardless of the number and location of principle or accessory uses, parcels, lots, street frontages, abutting or adjacent properties that comprise the overall facility The sign shall not exceed eight (8) feet in height at grade-level measured at the location where the sign will be erected on the property, 48 square feet in total allowable sign area with the changeable copy not exceeding a maximum of twenty-five percent (25%) of that allowable sign area. Wall-mounted electronic changeable copy signs are not permitted. Prior to approval of a special exception, the Board of Zoning Appeals shall ensure the following criteria are met. i. An applicant has provided sufficient evidence to the board that the proposed changeable copy sign (electronic), meets the following criteria a. Located on an arterial street as designated on the adopted Major Street Plan and having a minimum of four (4) existing travel lanes at the location of the proposed sign. b. Located in an area that is predominately non-residential in character. c. Located no closer than 500 feet from any existing residential use. ii. The board shall also consider the following in determining the appropriateness of granting a special exception. a. A recommendation from the Historic Zoning Commission, if the property is located within an historic overlay district. b. A recommendation from Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, if the property is located within a redevelopment district. c. A recommendation from the planning commission as provided in Section 17.40.300. The planning commission shall recommend on the proposed sign’s consistency with the goals, objectives, and standards of the general plan, including any community, neighborhood, or other design plan. d. The proposed sign’s size, height, location, configuration, materials, structure, illumination, and hours of operation, including proximity to another electronic changeable copy sign(s). e. Whether the sign will detract from the existing neighborhood character, including the street and pedestrian environment. iii. Once a special exception is granted the sign shall meet the following conditions: a. Be illuminated no earlier than 6:00 a.m. on any day and no later than 9:00 p.m. on any day. b. Once fully illuminated, the sign shall not produce any direct, indirect, or reflected light or glare impacts on adjoining properties, pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorists. iv. The board may place conditions on a proposed sign needed to ensure the sign does not detract from the existing or planned neighborhood character, including the street and pedestrian environment. 4. Modify Section 17.32.050.G (Prohibited Signs) by deleting the existing text and inserting the following in its place: G. Electronic video display signs in all zoning districts except the CA district. 5. Modify Section 17.32.050.H (Prohibited Signs) by deleting the existing text and inserting the following in its place: H. Electronic signs, either changeable copy or graphic display, are prohibited except as follows: 1) Billboards may be electronic, either changeable copy or graphic display signs, provided there is a minimum separation distance of 2,000 feet between the proposed billboard and another electronic billboard (either changeable copy or graphic display signs) subject to districts identified in Section 17.32.150 and the provisions of this title. 2) Signs located on properties in the office, mixed-use, commercial, shopping center, and industrial zoning districts may be electronic, either changeable copy or graphic display, subject to the sign regulations contained in Chapter 17.32 of this title. 3) Community facility uses located in residential zoning districts as provided in Section 17.32.090.
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