Some argue ‘electronic message centers’ never really left, enforcement resumes pending vote
Updated: Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at 4:27 PM: Clarifies suspended enforcement until after vote.
MANDEVILLE — Electronic signs could get new life in Mandeville if the City Council adopts a controversial ordinance which softens a city law adopted five years ago along with a grace period to phase out the signs, which ended January 1st.
Proposed Ordinance No. 21-02 would amend existing city code adopted in 2015, which outlaws all electronic signs — described in code as “Electronic Message Centers” — starting January 1, 2021. The so-called “amortization period” from 2015 until now allowed businesses who already owned such signs to write off their depreciation before shutting them down. However, a number of those signs are reportedly still in operation.
This new ordinance, if adopted by the City Council at its May 13th meeting, would create an exception for signs whose digital components comprise 50% or less of the sign face surface. Those electronic signs would be allowed to continue to operate until January 1, 2022. Those larger than 50% would have to shut down immediately.
The City effectively extended the original January 1st deadline to May 1, 2021, as part of its COVID-19 accommodations. Additionally, Mayor Clay Madden said in a statement that City Attorney Elizabeth Sconzert advised against sending out enforcement letters while there is pending legislation on the matter.
If the ordinance is rejected by the City Council, the mayor said the ban will be enforced immediately.
R&R Care Solutions, 1808 N. Causeway Blvd., Tuesday, May 11, 2021. This sign would not fit within the 50% rule proposed in the ordinance, and is in apparent violation, pass or fail. Mayor Clay Madden said in a statement, enforcement would resume immediately after the May 13th meeting vote. (Source: Mandeville Daily)
Editor’s Note: The proposed ordinance’s “50%” is referring to area, not dimensions. This means that a six-by-four-foot electric sign (area of 24 square feet) would only have to add a one-foot border or frame to become compliant. The one-foot border would make the outer dimensions eight-by-six feet (area of 48 square feet) making the original sign 50% of the outer sign face. See the illustration below:
The commission did not return a recommendation on language in the proposed ordinance that would create a new carveout for electronic signs based on the portion of their structure that is actually signage. The commission also voted to recommend in favor of hiring a consultant to examine current signage codes in general, not just electronic signs.
According to city code, Appendix A, Division II, Section 10.3.2 (Item 17), an electronic message center is defined as:
“Electronic Message Centers or Digital Signs. An electrically activated, changeable sign with a variable message and/or graphic presentation capability that can be electronically programmed by computer from a remote location or at the sign. Also known as an EMC or digital sign, these signs typically use arrays of LED lights to create an illuminated message.”
Madden released a statement at the April 27th Planning & Zoning Commission meeting saying that he is against the new ordinance.
There were 11 signs permitted under the grace period which ended January 1st, two of which have been turned off. Five of the 11 are gas station signs. Of the nine remaining, seven would be allowed to continue operating under proposed Ordinance No. 21-02. This means that those seven fit within the 50% carveout in the proposal.
According to eyewitness reports, a number of the existing electronic signs continue to operate, which are technically in violation of city code, and could be cited by the City now that the May 1st COVID-19 extension has elapsed.
Next Meeting : The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 13th, at 6 p.m. at the Paul Spitzfaden Community Center located at 3090 E. Causeway Approach. The statewide mask mandate and social distancing will be observed.