County planners 'sign' off on City's zoning text amendments but not without suggestions
With only three referral items and little else on the agenda, the Genesee County Planning Board tonight needed only 11 minutes to conduct its business, with the most notable action pertaining to the City of Batavia’s recent sign code review.
County planners recommended approval, with modifications, of zoning text amendments to the City’s packet of sign regulations.
In September, the City Planning & Development Committee reviewed the sign code and recommended the following changes:
-- Expanded list of exempt signs, specifically allowing a greater use of directional signage;
-- Defined drive-thru menu board signs to better conform to typical uses;
-- Clarified some language that may have been subjective;
-- Expanded areas where electronic message boards may be used;
-- Expanded the types of appeals that may be considered by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
With the PDC and County Planning Board’s blessing, City Council now is charged with reviewing the suggested changes to the sign code, coming to a consensus on the matter, scheduling a public hearing and adopting a local law that would put any changes into law.
County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari, speaking after tonight’s meeting, said tackling sign codes is “tricky because you’re dealing with freedom of speech issues.”
“You can’t regulate content, but you can regulate (sign) placement, size and color,” he said. “If you have to read the sign to see if it is in regulation, then you’re regulating content.”
Oltramari then said content can be regulated when safety is involved – signs that read “danger” could present a hazard, for example – but that the government holds “content” to a higher standard.
“We try to steer communities away from regulating content,” he added.
As far as modifications are concerned, county planners are advising that City Council solicit its attorney’s opinion on whether “open and closed” signs or “hours of operation” signs could be considered content-based restrictions, and whether the ZBA is permitted to grant area variances for non-dimensional issues.
It is the County Planning Board’s view, stemming from talks with a NYS Department of State lawyer, that non-dimensional variances, such as lighting type, should be considered use variances and not area variances.
City Council adopted its current sign code in January 2017 through a local law that significantly changed the previous version. Since then, the City’s Inspection Bureau reported that numerous questions have come up as to interpretation and intent of the code, and requested a review and, if necessary, amendments to the code.
In other action, the planning board recommended approval of the Town of Byron’s updated Comprehensive Plan, acknowledging the extensive work of the town’s officials.