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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 10 months ago

City working to amend Land Development Code regarding signs

How the Supreme Court’s decision on Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona will affect Ormond Beach.
by: Jarleene Almenas News Editor

After almost a year and a half in the making, Ormond Beach's City Commission and Planning Board were presented with staff suggestions for possible amendments to signage in the city's Land Development Code during the City Commission workshop on Tuesday, Dec. 5, spurred on by a 2015 Supreme Court decision that decided how much control local municipalities should have regarding signs.

"Signage seems like a very simple subject matter, but every government lawyer you talk to, they just pull their hair out because of all the issues," City Attorney Randy Hayes said. "It's unbelievable."

The Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona case came about after a small church in Gilbert was cited for violating the town's temporary signage rules. The church filed suit due to their belief that the town's code violated their First Amendment rights, and the case later reached the Supreme Court where the judges ruled in June, 2015, that the content-based restrictions and Gilbert's sign codes were not"narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest."

What does that mean for Ormond Beach? It means that they either had to repeal the exemptions allowing helpful signs on the city's streets and sidewalks or lift all sign restrictions all together.

It is a conundrum the city has been working on since August 3, 2016 with government lawyer Catherine Reischmann, who is also Lake Mary and Casselberry's city attorney. Reischmann has been helping city staff come up with ways to amend the city's code in order to prevent lawsuits. Based on the Supreme Court decision, if a suit was filed regarding signs, the city can defend itself by citing aesthetic or public safety with enough reasons to hold up under strict scrutiny in court.

"The say that strict scrutiny is like having a stomach wound in the Civil War," Reischmann said. "You're not going to survive, basically. So if you get to that point, your code will go down."

The city has come up with 11 amendments to the code in order to prevent that. They include replacing content-based qualifiers with location-based ones, no longer regulating government signs under the city's code, regulating signs based on zoning district and adding a severability clause uphold the signage code in case of a litigation. While Reischmann said there is always a risk of a lawsuit, the amendments will at least minimize that for the city.

The proposed amendments will be discussed at a future planning board meeting. 

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