town hall

The Town Council listened to comments during “call to the public” for more than an hour during its June 1 meeting as citizens asked the council to reconsider the approval of sign code revisions made during the May 18 council meeting.

The efforts of more than a dozen speakers, including Chamber CEO Betsy LaVoie, merchants and real estate professionals, may well have been for naught, however.

Town Attorney Aaron Arnson, responding to a inquiry from The Times, stated that the council rules of procedure (Rule 6.6. (E)(3)) states “any councilmember who voted with the majority may move a reconsideration of any action at the same or next regular meeting.”

That means that the June 1 meeting would have been the last opportunity to take up reconsideration. The rules also state that the request for consideration would need to be made in writing prior to the meeting date to assure compliance with open meeting laws. Vice Mayor David Spelich did make a motion from the dais June 1, however, he voted with the minority at the May 18 meeting, and it was not on the agenda.

“The time for reconsideration has passed,” Arnson said. “At this point, any change would have to be done through a text amendment if the council wished to have an amendment brought forward.”

Another option suggested by Spelich that has been mentioned in social media is having the ordinance referred to the voters in a referendum election.

According to Town Clerk Liz Klein, an interested party has picked up a packet for a referendum petition. However, as of Monday morning (June 7), the party had not returned with an application for a serial number for the petition or their statement of organization. They would need both before they could begin to collect signatures.

The deadline for submitting the petitions for a referendum election would be Thursday, June 17, 30 days from the ordinance adoption on May 18. The number of signatures for the petition is based on the most recent election in which the mayor and council were elected, or the August 2020 primary, when 9,038 ballots were cast. The referendum petition would need at least 904 valid signatures to have the question placed on a future ballot, Klein said.

Public outcry

Stefenie Bjorkman, owner of Sami Fine Jewelry and a life-long resident of the community, asked for council reconsideration of temporary sign restrictions.

“There is no reason we can’t work together to come up with a resolution that works for everyone,” Bjorkman said, adding that small businesses support one another and that is what being a hometown is all about.

“(The) sign ordinance sends a clear message (the council) does not want to be a hometown.”

LaVoie said the Chamber is willing to collaborate to find a solution. She said the burden is on the business to locate the right-of-way, so they know their sign is placed properly.

She also noted that a Chamber-sponsored survey of businesses found that more than 95 percent indicate the temporary signs they use have a significant positive impact on their business. They also say that 50 percent of their customers came through the door because they saw the sign.

“Where is the data to support (the council) position?” LaVoie asked.

Steve Vargo, owner of MCO Realty, urged the council to reconsider its decision and revise the ordinance as quickly as possible. He said the sign restrictions hinder the efforts of real estate professionals to do their job.

Former Mayor Linda Kavanagh told the council that the current regulations make it all but impossible for businesses to effectively use the signs.

The revisions approved by the Town Council on May 18 replace the entire section on sign regulations in the town’s Zoning Ordinance.

Staff has been working on changes to the sign regulations since a US Supreme Court decision in 2015 (Reed v. Gilbert). That decision stated that government entities could not regulate content on signs, in particular off-site temporary signs. Restrictions related to the time, place and manner of using such signs has long been considered appropriate by courts.

The Fountain Hills Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed and recommended approval of the revisions in early 2020.

Since then, P&Z review staff has brought proposed changes to the council for discussion on three occasions. It was based on a consensus of the council that prompted staff to include a provision to prohibit the temporary signs within town rights of way.

The right-of-way line is generally 10 to 12 feet behind the back of the street curb.