Sign ordinance runs into resistance from business owners

Friday, December 9, 2011 at 12:45am

More than 50 people, many of them business owners, packed Thursday’s Metro Planning Commission to oppose an ordinance that would dramatically change the way signs must comply with new zoning guidelines.

In the end, commissioners voted to defer an ordinance –– sponsored by council members Phil Claiborne and Burkley Allen –– that would require property owners to replace nonconforming signs if more than 50 percent of a sign’s surface area were altered or damaged. Affected signs would be existing signs that predated the implementation of pertinent zoning regulations. 

“There’s too much fire here,” planning commissioner Phil Ponder said, referring to the controversy of the proposal.

The bill is now set to go before the commission again on Jan. 26.

In recent years, Metro has implemented a number of design overlays aimed at improving the aesthetics of corridors such as Gallatin Road and neighborhoods like Donelson and Green Hills.

Claiborne, the bill’s sponsor who also sits on the planning commission, said his goal is to simply begin implementing these neighborhood-inspired design standards. He called them “mandates of the community.”

But the bill’s passage would create some unusual scenarios: A non-compliant sign structure that has equally sized panels for six tenants of a commercial property, for example, would have to be removed and replaced if three tenants moved in and installed new panels.

The reason is: Under this scenario, 50 percent of the sign would be altered. In its place, a property owner would have to install a sign permitted by the zoning guidelines, such as a monument sign.

Many business owners, along with several heavyweights in Nashville’s development community, say replacing signs can cost thousands of dollars. Small businesses are hurt the most, they say. 

“These dynamically increased costs will be born disproportionately by small business tenants, who are already struggling to make ends meet in this terrible economy,” H.G. Hill Realty Company CEO Jimmy Granbery wrote to commissioners in a letter prior to Thursday’s meeting.

• In other items, the planning commission approved a Councilwoman Karen Bennett-sponsored bill that would allow Nashvillians to keep chickens at urban residences.

The vote means the commission has recommended the Metro Council adopt the ordinance when it goes before the council on Jan. 3.

7 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 12/9/11 at 6:41

Might I suggest, as a lowly citizen, some common sense be applied to this situation?

The situation cited might require a "however" or built in variance to cover large signs with multiple panels.

I admit a woeful lack of experience in the inner workings of the council, but how hard can it be to realize (and admit) a "one size fits all" ordinance, just like "zero tolerance" policies comes with built in problems requiring people to actually think instead of merely follow orders?

I believe the basic intent of the ordinance is good. Not just from an aesthetics perspective but enhancing safety, as would certainly be a desirable by-product, ensuring signage is not distracting, or obstructs a drivers view of traffic.

Press on Burkley and Phil.

By: govskeptic on 12/9/11 at 7:17

Sign ordinances seem to come and go in this city but usually it's
for larger and larger signs. The allowance of billboard along
some of our major thoroughfares was absolutely one of the worst.
The larger signs block out the view of smaller ones representing
a smaller business and on and on until a distant view becomes a
blur of lights at night. With enough Political or Economic might
the Zoning Appeals Board (the Zoo in some circles) will approve
a sign totally outside the boundaries of reason. Less is more!

By: Ask01 on 12/9/11 at 8:16

Many municipalities around the nation have enacted ordinances to restrict the size of signage to preclude visual clutter and optical pollution. The result is a much more pleasing community appearance, which is a plus. The downside is the usually low rise signs do make locating businesses more challanging, but not impossible.

Palm Springs is an example, at least many years ago when I was stationed in southern California and this was almost a mandatory tourist stop.

Of course, the other end of the spectrum is Las Vegas where the bigger and tackier, the better seems to have been the rule then and I am sure still applies today.

Personally, I favored the minimalist nature of signage in Palm Springs, but that is merely personal taste.

By: Left-of-Local on 12/9/11 at 10:11


You have a business? You have a responsibility (especially since Republicans like to make businesses into citizens) to maintain the crap on your building. Suck it up. If your signs are falling apart or you've jerry-rigged it into submission, you SHOULD have to replace the eyesore. It is part of putting your big girl panties on if you wanna be your own boss. Perhaps, if you are ill prepared for the expense of business ownership, you should consider another method of pursuing wealth.

Might I suggest the GOP caucus? They welcome those who want to be fat cats without sacrifice, and the shirking of civic obligation to others.

By: Nitzche on 12/9/11 at 1:19


By: ohplease on 12/9/11 at 1:52

Nashville has always had a very lenient sign ordinance. The sign lobby is really strong, and the bigger the sign, the more money is in it for the sign companies. It seems that people don't get the difference between interstates and city streets when it comes to how much signage is really needed. As some of you have already said, stop whining and realize that our city benefits from good design and good community appearance. Look at desirable, attractive cities all over the world, and they all have restrictions. Good for the planning department for trying to make Nashville more in line with other great cities.

By: spooky24 on 12/14/11 at 5:12

Watching this debate on channel 3 makes you wonder if Karl Marx wasn't right all along. The planning commission should present a plan to the council and they can vote on it according to the influence of their constitutes.
That will be the end of the discussion-no wavers or appeals and get back to the business of government.