Newton votes in favor of easing sign rules

If a Newton business is holding a weekend sale, it can advertise, but not with temporary signs posted along roadsides in the area.

Current Newton City Code prohibits it.

Likewise, if Newton Kiwanis Club is sponsoring a pancake breakfast, the club is violating city ordinances when it places temporary signs on public rights-of-way throughout the city's downtown.

"That sounds restrictive to our businesses," said Newton Council member Robert Abernethy Jr.

Not only that, but Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax said Newton city staff has "better things to do than ride around town and pick up signs."

Mullinax said he is trying to change that.

"What I am trying to do is two things: Make it possible for our merchants and businesses to advertise on a temporary basis and to make it so our civic clubs are not heathens under the law," he said during Newton City Council's meeting Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Newton City Council voted unanimously in favor of recommending to the Newton Planning Commission changes to Newton city code governing temporary signs. Amendments favored by Newton City Council would allow commercial and non-commercial entities to place temporary signs on public rights-of-way and other locations for up to a week. Signs could not be placed in a location that would endanger public safety under the proposed changes to city code, but there would not be any other limit to quantity or location of the signs.

Already, Newton Planning Commission has voted against changing city code, but after Tuesday's council action, the appointed body must now revisit the topic.

Newton leaders began discussing rules for signs earlier this year, and last month, they passed new rules to placing signs outside storefronts in the city's downtown district.

"That is when I started getting calls," Mullinax said. "Our planning department was picking up signs around town. ... Our staff is doing what they are supposed to do."

Mullinax said he was concerned that if a business is planning a weekend sale and places temporary signs around the city on a Friday, city staff is quick to either collect the signs or alert business owners to an ordinance violation.

"I get phone calls, I react," he said.

Mullinax brought his concern to Newton Planning Commission. Members there researched the topic and city planning staff gathered additional information. The planning commission discussed proposals and changes to the ordinance in August and later in October, when it voted in favor of leaving the city's temporary sign rules unchanged.

"The planning commission elected not to agree with (changes)," Mullinax said Tuesday, "so that is OK."

Now with Newton City Council's recommendation to ease rules for temporary signs, the planning commission must now consider it again, said city attorney Larry Pitts.

"The council can recommend it to the planning commission, and in effect, the planning commission must hold a public hearing," Pitts said, adding the planning commission will then make a recommendation to council. "Then the council can do whatever it wants to do with the recommendation of the planning commission."