PIGEON FORGE — City Commissioners voted Monday to approve first reading of broad changes to the city’s sign regulations, but there is still a lot of discussion left before they approve a final version of it.
The changes include almost all of the city’s sign regulations, although most of the rewrites were aimed at making the regulations content neutral.
“It is a complete rewrite of the first one, we didn’t really cut and paste anything,” City Attorney Nathan Rowell said.
Commissioners are tentatively set to hold a workshop at 3:30 p.m. March 24 to talk about the planned changes.
They’ve approved a moratorium on new sign permits that will last through May 7, and hope to approve a final version of the ordinance by that time.
The moves come after Chancellor Telford Forgety struck down the city’s billboard regulations earlier this year in Sevier County Circuit Court.
Forgety based his reasoning in part on recent federal court decisions which have struck down regulations that discriminate based on whether signs advertise an on-premise business or an off-premise business.
The courts have ruled those regulations violate the right to free expression because they discriminate based on content.
Most billboards advertise businesses in other locations, so Pigeon Forge and many other locations have found themselves in need of new regulations.
The city’s planning commission has already reviewed the proposed new regulations and recommended them on to the City Commission, Community Development Director David Taylor said.
“The purpose of this recommendation by the planning commission is replacing the section with revised content, a content neutral ordinance,” Taylor said.
That meant eliminating language about off-premise advertising, but the proposals do extend to some other areas.
In areas zoned for general commercial or tourist commercial use — much of the Parkway — there has been a limit of 350 square feet of signage, for example.
In the old ordinances, that could be divided among different classifications, like street signs or wall signs.
The new proposal would keep the 350 square foot limit, but it limits ground signs to 200 square feet and wall signs to 150 square feet, Taylor said.
That was the approach they tried to take in most districts, Taylor said.
“The square footage didn’t change; the biggest thing is how did you use the square footage,” he said.
Businesses with existing signs that are not in conformance with the new regulation will have a grace period to bring them into compliance; the proposals currently call for them to have 10 years, or the same amount of time they’d been existence, whichever is less.