Signs need delicate balance

Pinedale Council wants an uncluttered town without violating free speech

PINEDALE – The election is over; now the Pinedale Town Council is focusing on the town’s sign ordinance and its shortcomings that were made apparent prior to the election.

In an attempt to have a clean, uncluttered look that aesthetically appeals to tourists, the current sign laws have limits. Signs are not allowed off the premises of a business. A sign’s size and amount of signs are limited. Signs can’t be posted in vacant lots. Even interior window signs are required to be permitted. Current codes do not address temporary signs such as banners or flags for events. Free-standing sandwich boards are not allowed.

Election signs are only allowed 30 days before an election and must be removed within five days after the election. This requirement means candidates have to take signs down between a primary and general election inside the town’s limits. The ordinance did not differentiate between public and private property.

During a work session at the Nov. 26 Council meeting, Hayley Ruland, director of engineering and zoning for the town of Pinedale, presented a chart that shows the town’s sign ordinance compared to other communities in Wyoming. Mayor Matt Murdock and council members John Paravicini, Tyler Swafford and Dean Loftus attended. Council member Jim Brost had an excused absense.

Questions emerged during the primary election as signs appeared for candidates well in advance of the 30 days in public rights-of-way and on private property. The town’s sign laws were called into question as a violation of First Amendment rights to free of speech.

The council agreed not to enforce the confusing ordinance at that time but to address and clarify the laws after the election.

Grandfathered in now, most of the signs on businesses along U.S. Highway 191 or Pine Street could be future violations. As they rework the sign laws, the town council agreed the community should follow the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s rules, which require signs to be attached to the buildings and set back at least 2 feet from rights-of-ways.

No formal actions were taken during the work session.

Since many of the signs on Pine Street – the major thoroughfare through Pinedale – hang from western–styled frontages and awnings, they would not be acceptable in the future law, based on WYDOT’s rules.

In an email sent in advance of the meeting, the town’s attorney Ed Wood recommended that no political signs should be allowed in public rights-of-ways and that there should be no restrictions on private property. He said that is the easiest way to ensure less clutter and still protect individual liberties and public safety.

Free-standing sandwich boards directing Pine Street customers to businesses located on side streets would also be banned. Council members agreed those signs should also be attached to a building then it would be up to the Pine Street building owner and the sign owner. Signs placed by other businesses would count against the building owner’s maximum allowable signage.

Currently, signs can’t be placed in vacant lots. Under the recommendations by the council, sign size would be limited to 40 square feet – comparable to the size of a piece of plywood. Following the discussion, the attorney and staff will review the current sign ordinance and make proposed changes that would need to be approved with three readings.

Other actions taken by the council include:

• Gift cards for $250 were approved for the town’s estimated 17 to 18 employees.

• Bids will be solicited to purchase a new vehicle for the town. Council was informed that a town employee must travel to Billings two times a week to ensure water samples are tested. Billings is the closest lab that can test for fecal coliform. A more reliable vehicle with four-wheel drive is needed to make the trip.

• The council approved an expenditure to bring for a specialist to help staff set up an in-house lab and train employees to test the water according to Environmental Protection Agency’s standards.

• Approval was given to purchase five computer notebooks, not to exceed $1,750, for council members to use.

• The Council went into a closed executive session for personnel. No actions were taken following the session. n

Video News
More In Homepage