Troy City Council signs off on new sign ordinance, lawsuits loom

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 9, 2018

TROY — Five billboard-type signs may stand for eight more years, although 200-square-foot electronic signs and off-premises signage are banned going forward after the Troy City Council unanimously approved a new sign ordinance. 

The council approved the ordinance at its Sept. 24 meeting. A moratorium on approving permits for digital signs was set to expire Oct. 10, after press time. 

The council listened to the results of an electronic sign study at its Sept. 10 meeting. Richard Carlisle, of Carlisle/Wortman Associates, the city’s planning consultant, and Jane Graham, of Hubbell, Roth & Clark, retained as the city’s engineering consultant, presented the results.

The council, by consensus, directed the City Attorney’s Office to amend the proposed sign ordinance to eliminate off-premises electronic signs. An example of an off-premises sign is an electronic message sign advertising a business not at that site. 

City Councilman Dave Henderson proposed the initial moratorium after five new 200-square-foot signs were constructed in the city. One is located on Dequindre Road, north of 14 Mile Road; three are on Rochester Road — one south of Long Lake Road, and two south of Wattles Road; and one is on Maple Road at John R Road. 

In addition to those five signs, permits had been approved for 200-square-foot signs to be constructed on Livernois Road, just north of Maple Road, and on Maple Road, west of Dequindre Road and west of Stephenson Highway. However, those permits were immediately revoked upon imposition of the moratorium, before construction began. 

There is a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court for those revoked permits. A conference is set for Oct. 22. 

City staff first alerted the council to the applications for permits for the billboard-type signs in February of 2017 in a letter stating that applications for identical ground signs had been received for three different locations. 

One person, Alec Peeples, spoke at the Sept. 24 meeting. He said he appreciates the attention taken, but “there (are) still other aspects that need attention. Rochester Road especially needs attention.” 

Assistant City Attorney Allan Motzny told the council that the sign ordinance reflects the direction given by the council at the Sept. 10 meeting. This includes prohibiting off-premises electronic signs in all zoning districts, except for properties within 50 feet of the right of way of Interstate 75 in the industrial zoning district.

Under the new ordinance, no electronic sign will exceed 50 square feet. Illumination cannot exceed 0.3 foot-candles; display time can be no less than one minute; transition must be instantaneous, with no flashing or obvious distracting elements; and no audio is allowed.   

Under the approved sign ordinance, signs that are larger than 50 square feet have eight years to be compliant, but those that exceed 0.3 foot-candles in brightness must comply immediately or face a civil infraction.

In the initial sign ordinance that was presented to the council Sept. 10, on- and off-premises signs were treated equally.

Motzny said at the Sept. 10 meeting that this was based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which he said confirmed that content-based regulation “was only valid if narrowly tailored to meet a compelling governmental interest. You have to look at the sign to determine if it is regulated. It’s a difficult standard to meet.”  

Mayor Dane Slater said that going forward, he believes the city should establish a sign ordinance committee to look at the ordinance language, which he said Planning Director R. Brent Savidant mentioned at the Sept. 10 meeting. 

“I recognize we’re in litigation and it’s difficult to comment,” Slater said. “It is the city attorney’s opinion this is the best we can do to prevent us from litigation and try to achieve the goals we’re trying to achieve.”