NORTHFIELD — With new sign technology and a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling staring communities in the face, Northfield Village officials have drafted a new sign ordinance.

The draft was unveiled at Council’s Jan. 9 meeting, and a public forum took place Jan. 16 to outline provisions of the new ordinance. About 15 residents / business owners attended the latter session.

Rita McMahon of Aislinn Consulting said the village’s sign ordinance was last updated in 1987, "and since then a lot of new technology and concepts have come on the scene."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case involving an Arizona town that local sign regulations must be content-neutral and that sign codes are subject to "strict scrutiny" judicial review if they apply different standards based on a sign’s content, purpose of the sign or who is putting it up.

The draft ordinance outlines types of permitted and prohibited signs, size and location restrictions, general provisions, the permit process and penalties for violating the ordinance.

A person violating the ordinance is subject to a fine of not more than $150 per offense, while a company or organization convicted of a violation is subject to a fine of not more than $1,000.

"We’re not trying to be the Gestapo here," said Councilman Nick Magistrelli. "We’ve drafted this ordinance with help from our consultant, and are looking for input now."

McMahon said in addition to complying with standards set down in the Supreme Court ruling, village officials believe the new code will enhance the visual nature of the Route 8 corridor.

She said the code sets forth separate regulations for signs in different zoning districts.

New signs and those which are relocated or changed would be subject to the new regulations. If a current sign does not conform, it would have to be brought into compliance within 10 years.

"We’re not asking businesses to replace signs immediately to be in compliance with the new code, and I don’t think a 10-year period to bring them into compliance is a hardship," said Magistrelli.

McMahon said the height of the lower edge of a pole sign at commercial sites would be lowered from 10 feet to 8 feet.

The upper edge could not exceed 15 feet in height, and the pole sign could not exceed 40 square feet. Temporary signs would be limited to 32 square feet and could be placed on a site four times a year for no more than 30 days each time.

Guidelines for changeable copy signs and signs that are lighted also are spelled out. McMahon said lighting of temporary signs would not be permitted, and signs could not be illuminated between 2:30 and 5 a.m. unless the business is open during those hours.

Permits are required for most signs, and the ordinance describes signs for which permits are not required. 

Law Director Brad Bryan said because of the narrow rights-of-way along Route 8, some of the setback distances from the road are challenging, and those, along with sign square footage limits, could change before Council’s final vote on the code.

"If setbacks or sign sizes are close to, but a little over the sizes spelled out in the code, a business owner could go to the planning commission for a variance," Bryan said.

"There are a lot of gray areas in our current code, and we need to find a happy medium," said Service Director-Street Superintendent Jason Walters. "Something must be done."

Councilman Keith Czerr said he opposes certain proposed sign regulations, because they could deter businesses from locating in the village and could open up the village to lawsuits.

"We should do what we can to help our businesses, not hinder them," he said.

Magistrelli said further public meetings on the sign code are possible. Residents can get copies of the current draft at Village Hall, and can forward any comments to Mayor Jesse Nehez or a Council rep.

Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 Ext. 4189 or klahmers@recordpub.com