Planning Commission’s work on sign ordinance commended

If you think it has been easy rewriting the Little Falls city sign ordinance, think again.

The City Planning Commission is now working on its ninth draft. The 18-page document begins with no fewer than 97 separate definitions. The truth is that advertising is almost everywhere, and regulating it consistently will be time-consuming and difficult.

And yet, if the city doesn’t regulate signs, they will quickly mushroom out of control. Further, the city will get hung up in prickly situations where somebody objects to a sign and selective enforcement opens the city up to lawsuits.

Some changes in the new ordinance will irritate a lot of people. For example, no off-premises sign-age is allowed. Period. That affects homeowners who want to post directional signs to their garage sales.

Posting an arrow sign on a utility pole, a common practice these days, is actually illegal under the current ordinance. It will be just as much so under the new ordinance.

The Commission thought about having a provision for temporary signs that would be posted for just a day or two, but the Commission concluded such signs would be more trouble than they are worth. To use an example that most residents can understand, would the community want temporary signs posted to a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan?

The one change we would make concerns the posting of “Non-Commercial Speech” before elections. Lawn signs would be allowed to go up on Aug. 1 before any general election, or 13 weeks before a special election, and must come down 10 days afterward. No quantity restrictions; no size limitations.

The only issue is that Aug. 1 may be less than 10 days before the state’s primary election. Further, some lawmakers are trying to move the primary to June. Political lawn signs heighten name recognition. Limiting the allowable sign time before a primary election to a span shorter than that available in general or special elections gives an advantage to the best-known candidates, who are often incumbents. August 1 may be a date set by state law, but it still isn’t right. The permitted time for primary signs should be the same as for other elections.

Still, the Planning Commission is to be commended for trying to address as many concerns as possible. If it passes muster with the League of Minnesota Cities legal team, we recommend giving it a try.