Mayor and Council

   For the meeting on:

  November 5, 2012
   Department:   Community Planning and Development Services
   Division:  Planning
   Responsible staff:  Deane Mellander, Zoning Administrator
  phone: (240) 314 - 8224

Phase II Revisions to the Sign Regulations (Zoning Ordinance Article 18)

Receive a briefing on four options for continued review and revision of the Sign Regulations and proceed with Option #3 – Examine the results of the Chamber of Commerce’s current review of the Sign Ordinance and return to the Mayor and Council for direction on next steps after the new year.

The adoption of Text Amendment TXT2012-00234 on July 30, 2012 was the culmination of Phase I of the collaboration between the staff and the Chamber of Commerce to streamline sign permits. To expedite the approval process, the amendments to Article 18 of the Zoning Ordinance authorized staff approval for variances commonly approved by the Sign Review Board. TXT2012-00234 also provided more flexibility in sign elements such as logos and colors, including for existing shopping centers.

At the outset, the Chamber of Commerce requested additional changes to the sign code. Because those modifications were considered major policy changes to the City's long-standing sign code that could change the character of the City’s appearance, there was agreement to set them aside to be considered at a later date as Phase II of the effort. These included changes to allow off-site signs, rooftop signs and electronic message signs

The Rockville Chamber of Commerce has formed a committee to review the code and identify a list of concerns and suggestions to present to the City in January. The staff and the Chamber continue to communicate on this effort. Chamber representative will be present at the October 29 meeting if the Mayor and Council have questions.

In considering TXT2012-00234 and other recent text amendments to the sign regulations, the Mayor and Council received testimony that the City should conduct a comprehensive review of the sign code (Article 18 of the Zoning Ordinance). In response, the Mayor and Council directed staff to examine options for continued review and revision of the Ordinance.

Attachment A, pages A-1 to A-4, provides a primer on the current Ordinance and some history of changes since 1976.

Mayor and Council History
The issue of further revisions to the sign ordinance was raised at the public hearings on TXT2012-00232 and TXT2012-00234 earlier this year.

Options Considered
Option 1. Comprehensive review and revision of the Sign Ordinance

The previous comprehensive revision of the ordinance was in 1976. A substantive revision was done in 2004 mostly in response to a suit filed against the City, and subsequently dismissed, that claimed the sign regulations were an unconstitutional limitation on free speech.

A comprehensive review would expand on the work done with the Chamber that culminated in TXT2012-00234. It should begin with a survey of regulations in other jurisdictions, a review of published reports on sign regulation, and extensive public outreach. That work would result in guiding principles that form a basis for drafting the revisions. Any changes would require legal involvement should First Amendment issues arise again.

A comprehensive review would require outside assistance due to the ongoing workload of the zoning administrator and zoning/sign inspector. Based on initial inquiries with consultants, a comprehensive review and revision would cost approximately $75,000. There is no funding for this effort in the FY13 budget.

Option 2. Review and revision of selected portions of the Sign Ordinance

Discussion of TXT2012-000232 and 000234 identified specific items of interest to the business community that have more significant impact on Rockville and could affect the character of the City’s appearance. In addition, there may be a need to review the regulations in light of any recent changes to the law under the First Amendment. Focusing specifically on those items reduces the scope of work and time required to complete the review and revision.

If this option is selected, staff recommends addressing the following items that have been raised by the Chamber and other stakeholders:

  • Should the City allow off-premises signs? This could include billboards, which the City has not allowed for at least 30 years.
  • Should the City allow roof-top signs? This could include billboards on building tops if off-premises signs are also allowed.
  • Should electronic message boards and illuminated LED signs be allowed?
  • Should signs, perhaps in certain circumstances, be allowed that blink, flash, or otherwise depict movement?

This level of review and revision could be completed by CPDS staff. More information about the impact of changing these provisions of the Ordinance is provided in Attachment A, page A-5.

Option 3. Examine the results of the Chamber of Commerce’s current review of the Sign Ordinance and return to the Mayor and Council for direction on next steps

The Chamber of Commerce reported in its last quarterly update that a committee of Chamber members was formed to examine additional changes to the Sign Ordinance based on model sign codes from the industry. The Committee will bring suggestions for additional Phase II changes to the Ordinance to the Mayor and Council in January 2013.

The Mayor and Council could direct staff to wait for the Chamber to complete its additional work and base next steps on the results. If the Chamber’s work focuses on the key items under Option 2, the Mayor and Council might proceed in that direction. If the Chamber identifies more wide ranging concerns and changes, a comprehensive review may be in order (Option 1).

Under Option 3, staff would review the Chamber’s analysis and bring it to the Mayor and Council early next year with a recommendation on next steps. Staff would include a timeline and cost estimate for the Mayor and Council’s options for next steps.

Option 4. Make no additional changes to the Sign Ordinance

The Mayor and Council approved several adjustments to the sign ordinance over the past year. Option 4 is to make no additional changes at this time.

Next Steps
If the Mayor and Council select Option 3, staff will wait for the Chamber’s report and schedule a Mayor and Council discussion of next steps after the new year. Staff would include a timeline and cost estimate for the Mayor and Council’s options for next steps.

If the Mayor and Council select Option 2, staff will prepare a work plan to complete the review and revision. The results of the staff analysis of the items identified above (and any others of interest to the Mayor and Council) will be placed on a future agenda for Mayor and Council discussion. If the Mayor and Council select Option 1, staff will work with Finance to identify any available funds and begin the process to seek outside assistance.

M&C memo on revisions.pdf

Department Head:

Susan Swift, Director of Community Planning and Development Services
Approved on: 09/05/2012

City Manager:

Barbara B. Matthews, City Manager
Approved on: 10/25/2012