Monday, October 05, 2009

LED Proposal Re-emerges on Thursday Planning Commission Agenda

Metro planners have placed an attempt to allow commercial-style light emitting diode signs in residential neighborhoods on the Planning Commission's Thursday agenda for reconsideration. However, unlike last June, planners are now recommending disapproval of CM Charlie Tygard's proposal based on two reasons. In the first place:
From a land use policy perspective, staff would argue that these electronic display signs are not appropriate in all residentially- and agriculturally-zoned areas. While there may be some areas zoned for residential or agricultural use where an electronic display sign could be appropriate, staff finds that the process outlined in this bill does not adequately allow for consideration of the context of the site and the potential impact on surrounding properties. Rather than a one-size-fits-all list of criteria for the BZA to consider, the decision on the appropriateness of an electronic display sign should be based upon analysis of the context of the area.
So, it appears that planners have now adopted arguments by LED opponents that a one-size-fits-all-neighborhoods approach to allowing commercial-style signs is impractical and heavy-handed. This looks like progress to me.

In the second place:
from a practical point of view, the bill, as written, will not prevent future requests for Specific Plan or other inappropriate commercial zoning districts to accommodate the signs in residential districts. The process and standards recommended in this bill will limit the community education facilities, cultural centers, recreation centers, and religious institutions that are eligible to apply for, and receive permission to have, an electronic display sign. This is unlikely, however, to reduce the demand for these signs. As a result, these institutions will continue to seek electronic display signs by requesting rezoning to Specific Plan or other commercial zoning districts.
Essentially, not only will residential neighborhoods have to brook bright LED advertisements with approval of Tygard's bill, but they will continue to face increased developer demand for Specific Plans in order to get around the zoning. Tygard's bill means more money for the sign industry and more trouble for residential neighborhoods.

On Thursday, planners are offering their own alternative proposal free for any CM to pick up and sponsor. Their proposed ordinance would create an "Electronic Sign Overlay District" as "a means by which land uses situated within areas of the community where zoning does not permit electronic display signs by right, may have a process to obtain an electronic display sign if the sign is found to be compatible with the existing and proposed development pattern as outlined in the principles, policies and objectives of the general plan." Control over recommending the ESO would not go to Board of Zoning Appeals, but would stay with the Planning Commission before going to Metro Council.

According to the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list, one leader followed up with questions about the alternative and a planner responded:
We are trying to come up with the most forthright way to deal with electronic sign applications and give the public the most information as was requested by the Planning Commission. Short of a complete prohibition on electronic signs, this is the best way to make the public aware of a proposed LED sign. If we don't do this, there will still be SP and CS rezoning requests. We don't see that there is an interest on Council's behalf in a prohibition ....

Yes, there will be a public hearing for the commission to take input on the proposed ordinance.

P.S. I want to be clear about something - the purpose on Thursday's meeting is to vote on the Sign Task Force Bill and our recommendation is to disapprove.

The proposed ESO is not a bill, doesn't have a sponsor, it is our recommendation of a better way to do what the Sign Task Force Bill set out to do. We have no idea if it will go anywhere.
It seems clear to me that Planning has changed their action to advocating disapproval of Tygard's LED bill, which would mean it would require a supermajority (27 instead of 21) to pass it in Metro Council. I find curious the claim that there is no Council interest in a prohibition on LEDs in residential areas. Have industry lobbyists so influenced the legislative process that the choice is either to pass Tygard's bill or to take no action to reform and update regulations on commercial advertising in and around our dwellings? It seemed ominous when self-proclaimed reformer Megan Barry flip-flopped from wanting to beat Tygard's LED bill to disappearing entirely from the debate. Was it an indication that the planner was right about the council mood on this issue? I find that prospect disturbing.

After reading the description of the planner's proposal (p. 52), anyone have any insight on its merits?

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