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New Clermont sign law conforms with Supreme Court ruling
David Syfan
David Syfan

Clermont ended a sign permit moratorium last week by rolling out a new sign ordinance that complies with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling restricting governments from regulating sign content.

“What we tried to do is push our ordinance to where we eliminate anything that’s arguably a content-based regulation for signs,” City Attorney David Syfan said.

“Under the federal law, if you do content regulation, you have to show a compelling government interest in doing so, and that’s a very hard standard to meet,” he said. “Most ordinances can’t survive that scrutiny.”

Syfan said the result is “it pushes most governmental entities to having a modified building code ordinance for signs. You can still regulate height, width and length and what materials they’re made of.”

The high court’s June 2015 ruling spurred changes nationwide.

Justices found that the city of Gilbert, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, had imposed unconstitutional restrictions on temporary signs — including size, duration and number — that directed motorists to nearby church services.

Signs with political and ideological messages had been granted much greater leeway by the city, specifically in terms of their size. The church had been cited for violating city code on multiple occasions.

“That (ruling) was a change in position by the court and basically created a problem not for us, but almost every government entity nationwide,” Syfan said.

Last September, Hall County officials said they chose to make ordinance changes and additions to clarify that free speech will not be infringed. Two months later, Lula proposed changes to its sign ordinance that explicitly said it doesn’t restrict sign content.

Clermont Town Council voted April 5 to stop issuing sign permits for 120 days to give time for the sign ordinance update, City Clerk Sandra Helton said.