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Town, county to work on political sign regulations

A work session to deal with the issue of political signs, involving both the Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County planning commissions, scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 1, was cancelled at the last minute because, said Town Planner James Dickhoff, not enough delegates were able to attend.

At issue is the need to provide consistency between the town and the county (as well as any other areas, such as that controlled by the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association) when it comes to how the various governing bodies regulate the display of political signs during a campaign.

A reminder on the official website of the Town of Pagosa Springs, addressed to political candidates and supporters, reads, “With the current political season underway, and heating up for the impending primary and general elections, the Town of Pagosa Springs reminds residents of the regulations governing display of political signs within town boundaries.”

These regulations are spelled out in section 6.12.2(G)(1) of the Sign Code enacted by the Town Council of Pagosa Springs, “Signs six square feet or smaller may be displayed for up to 45 days before the sponsored political event or election, and must be removed no more than three days following the event or election. Only one sign per candidate per lot is allowed and shall be placed on private property with permission. Signage within the right-of-way [the area between a property line and the road or sidewalk] is prohibited.”

The next section of the sign code states that anyone who wishes to display a political sign larger than six square feet would be required to go through the town’s review and approval process, and obtain a permit.

While those who display political signs less than six square feet in size are exempt from the need to obtain a permit, they are still required to conform to all other aspects of the Sign Code, including such prohibitions as no inflatable figures, shapes or mascots; no search lights or beacons; and no “flashing signs with lights or illumination that flash, move, rotate, scintillate, blink, flicker, vary in intensity, vary in color, or use intermittent electrical pulsations.”

There are also limits as to how high a sign can be or how close signs can be to the corner of a property if the lot is at an intersection. These regulations are designed to address safety concerns, to limit distractions for motorists and pedestrians, and to avoid blocking a driver’s view of oncoming traffic.

Anyone with questions regarding the sign code within town limits is encouraged to call James Dickhoff at 264-4151, extension 225.

The sign code for the rest of Archuleta County is, in some ways, less strict than the town’s. Section of the county code explains that the total area of a political sign can be up to 16 square feet (instead of just six), the sign can be erected 60 days prior to the election (instead of just 45), and the sign doesn’t have to be removed for seven days after the election (instead of three).

However, the county’s sign code is slightly confusing on this point, and this may have been one of the things that Wednesday’s joint town/county work session planned to address, because later sections of the county code appear to contradict, or at least elaborate on the above mentioned regulations.

Section requires political signs for “agricultural and residential uses: a maximum area of six (6) square feet and a maximum height of five (5) feet” while the next section requires political signs for “commercial, industrial and non-residential uses: a maximum area of thirty-two (32) square feet and a maximum height of eight (8) feet.” Section reaffirms the sixty-day time limit for erecting a political sign before an election, but then states that it “shall be removed within ten (10) days following the appropriate election.”

There are several similarities between the town and the county sign codes. The county also allows political signs to be exempt from the permitting process, while still requiring them to follow all the general rules that apply to other types of signs. These prohibitions are similar to those expressed in the town’s sign code and include no flashing, animated or moving signs; no inflatable freestanding signs or tethered balloons; and no pennants, banners, flags or character likenesses.

However, in other instances, the county’s sign code is even more restrictive than that of the town. The county does not allow roof signs, whereas the town will allow signs to hang from a roof as long as they do not extend above the roof line. The county also prohibits signs that emit sound or signs that hang from an awning.

While the goal of providing consistency between the two codes is an admirable one, and will help reduce some confusion over what a citizen can or cannot do with their political signs depending on where their property is located, the issue is whether or not the codes will become more or less restrictive.

According to the community plan posted on the official Archuleta County website, “protection of individual property rights is a fundamental legal and philosophical principle of the nation, the State of Colorado, and Archuleta County.”

It goes on to state, however, that it “recognizes a common vision … to preserve community character and environmental and scenic qualities, while enhancing economic opportunities and creating a more diverse economy. The plan attempts to strike an appropriate balance between the unrestrained exercise of individual property rights and achieving the common vision.”

Add to this tension, between an individual’s property rights and the greater good of the community, the right of an individual to freedom of expression and the right to advocate for whichever political candidate or issue they choose, and it is easy to see how the town and county planning commissions have their work cut out for them.

Since the governmental process requires a certain amount of time for debate and public input before any changes to a regulation can be enacted, Dickhoff explained, Aug. 1 was the deadline for both planning commissions to produce any recommendations to their respective governing bodies before the upcoming general election season. The joint work session will likely be rescheduled for some time in September and, perhaps, something can be worked out in time for future election seasons.

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