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Yard sign ordinance needs more work

City sign rules over-regulating nonprofit agencies, churches, schools, and other entities working for the common good of the community are a solution in search of a problem.

The city of Medford is in the process of revising its sign ordinance to address the growing use of advertising yard signs. Medford, like other communities, has periodically been plastered with signs placed in the right of way and in people’s front lawns promoting businesses, some of which have little or no connection to the community. These signs can be distracting to drivers and a nuisance to homeowners. There are ample, other advertising options in the community for these businesses to promote their goods and services.

In attempting to address the concern regarding commercial yard signs, the city of Medford has dusted off the sign ordinance portion of the zoning codes with the doctrine that all that is not specifically allowed is prohibited. For example, under this extreme interpretation, the sponsorship signs on the outfield fence of the city’s baseball diamonds would not be allowed because they were never formally addressed in the code. This would be laughable if not used as a direct example during a planning commission meeting.

It quickly became apparent that a zero tolerance yard sign policy not only is unworkable, but does a disservice to local residents and creates a barrier to legitimate local businesses and contractors.

A proposed revision of the sign codes in the city of Medford goes a long way toward creating common sense regulations of commercial yard and workplace advertising signs. The city should be applauded for developing easy to understand and enforce rules regarding temporary business signs.

Where things become problematic is in the rules regarding the number, size and time limits for placement of signs and banners for nonprofit, religious, school and community events.

A community church festival or the Taylor County Fair is fundamentally different than a house washing business or new internet service provider. Temporary signs promoting youth organizations during recruitment drives or providing information about community resources available for those in crisis serve a community good that supersedes city hall’s desire to make sure residential streets are tidy and the letter of rules are being obeyed.

An easy solution is to add a line exempting non-profit groups including churches, youth groups and community events from the yard sign regulations. By definition and under the tax codes, these groups exist for the general public good. Rather than standing in the way of these groups fulfilling their missions to serve the public good, the city of Medford could instead ask the groups to follow the commercial sign rules as basic guidelines, with the caveat that signs which get nuisance or safety complaints may be removed. The city needs to make partners of these groups rather than adversaries.

The city of Medford will hold a public hearing on the proposed sign rule changes at 5 p.m. on December 4 at city hall, after which the planning commission will vote on the proposed ordinance before sending it to the full city council for action. People are encouraged to attend that public hearing or to contact city hall ahead of time to let their opinions be known.