KEARNEY — Traffic safety, simplification of the law and a freedom of speech ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court are among the reasons the Kearney City Council on Tuesday will consider updates to the city’s sign ordinance.
“These proposed code amendments will maintain Kearney’s current signage character, remove content-based regulations, and simplify the application of sign code,” according to a memo to City Council members from Brenda Jensen, assistant development services director.
The sign code update is among items on the council’s meeting agenda Tuesday.
Some of the updates are in response to a free speech lawsuit brought by a church pastor against the city of Gilbert, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. The pastor alleged Gilbert officials discriminated against his church, based on the content of small signs that announced the time and place of worship services. Lower courts ruled against the pastor, but in 2015 the Supreme Court reversed those rulings and unanimously invalidated Gilbert’s ordinance.
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“The restrictions in the sign code that apply to any given sign thus depend entirely on the communicative content of the sign,” Justice Clarence Thomas said, in explaining why Gilbert’s sign codes weren’t content neutral.
In addition to ensuring Kearney’s codes respect free speech, the code updates aim to maintain Kearney’s current signage character, simplify the application of sign code, and ensure signs don’t create visual clutter that endangers motorists and pedestrians.
Jensen said sign installers were asked to provide suggestions.
“In working on the proposed changes, staff reviewed sign installers’ comments and researched sign regulation considering the Supreme Court case findings. Both the sign installers and planning commission’s three-member Sign Code Committee reviewed and commented on the revised sign regulations,” Jensen said.
The new code lists 56 names for different sign types and specifies where they can be, how tall and large they can be, how many there can be, and, in the case of electronic signs, how they should function so they don’t create visual distractions for motorists.
“No electronic information sign shall be programmed in a way that suggests or resembles a traffic control device, such as a traffic signal,” according to the proposed code. “Electronic information signs shall be programmed in a way that no sign shall flash or blink and the image, message or lighting pattern shall hold for a minimum of two seconds; however, full animation video is allowable provided such video does not flash or blink.”
Signs cannot be erected in places where they block the view of motorists.
The proposed amendments also aim to prevent signs from falling into disrepair and require that sign installers are certified and carry a minimum of $1 million in public liability and property damage insurance.
In other business, the council will consider selling a tract in the new Patriot Industrial Park near Kearney Regional Airport to Kash Plastics LLC.
Purchase price will be $90,771, according to a memo from City Attorney Michael Tye. Kash Plastics will construct a new building within 18 months and create nine full-time jobs with benefits and maintain the jobs for at least 36 months.
Tye said the city will set aside the $90,771 Kash pays for the industrial park property for parking expansion at the airport terminal.
Tuesday’s meeting is open to the public and begins at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 18 E. 22nd St.