P&Z considers electronic signage requests

The State of Texas grants cities the ability to regulate quite a variety of activities within the city limits. The City of Kerrville enforces building codes, fire regulations, development codes, sidewalks, and signs, among other things. At the staff level, our city’s administrators consider applications and review design criteria, and they approve or disapprove these proposals based on the city’s Municipal Codes. 

One of these codes is known as the “Sign Ordinance.” This lengthy set of rules and regulations sets forth criteria for the placement, materials, and size of various types of signage, including the types illustrated below.

Diagram taken from the City of Kerrville’s Sign Ordinance

Our current sign ordinance was written in 2012 and was amended in 2013, 2014, and 2018. Any person, business, or organization that wants to erect a new sign has to meet the guidelines specified in this ordinance. If they wish to go above and beyond what the rules normally allow, they must apply for a “variance” — basically a specific exemption from the rules. All variance requests must be approved by the city’s Planning & Zoning Board.

A specific portion of the city’s sign ordinance deals with electronic signs, which have gained in popularity since the sign ordinance was first adopted. These signs can be seen throughout town at places like the Convention & Visitors Bureau, Cailloux Theater, various banks and restaurants, and car dealerships. All of these current signs, unless grandfathered, have met (and continue to meet) the city’s requirements set forth below. Our city’s rules for electronic signs, which were written with help from sign vendors, regulate electronic signs as follows: 

  • May not exceed 32 square feet
  • May use color images
  • Must operate in a way that its message remains static for a minimum of four seconds
  • Must operate in a way that all screen transitions occur within one second such that the initial message does not fade, dissolve, or travel
  • May not use motion, such as a scrolling message
  • May be allowed as a wall sign or window sign instead of a freestanding sign
  • May not exceed a light intensity of 500 NITS at night or 7,000 NITS during the day
  • Operating within 200 feet of a residential area must be turned off from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

This Thursday, January 3, the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission will hear from two local organizations that wish to utilize signage that exceeds these stipulations. The first group seeking a variance is Calvary Temple Church, located along Loop 534. The second is the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce, located along Sidney Baker Street, aka Highway 16. 

Calvary Temple’s proposed electronic sign would measure approximately 72 square feet — more than double the maximum allowed size of 32 square feet. A diagram of this proposed sign is shown below.

Proposed signage along Loop 534 for Calvary Temple Church.

The Chamber’s sign has already been constructed and is in use currently, and they seek a variance to allow an electronic sign measuring approximately 79 square feet — again, more than double the currently allowed square footage. Because of a mistake made by the city’s planning department during the permitting stage, the sign was erected and activated, but the city has now told the Chamber that the sign cannot be used in its entirety without a variance from the P&Z. A diagram of the sign is shown below. 

Proposed signage along Sidney Baker Street for Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce.

According to Drew Paxton, City of Kerrville’s Executive Director for Development Services, the sign should have been compared against three sections of the sign ordinance, but was mistakenly only compared against one section of the regulations. When the error was discovered, the city informed the Chamber that a variance would be necessary to use the entire surface area of the electronic portion of the sign.

The full agenda and information packet for Thursday’s P&Z meeting is available here: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/3234

Dr. William Rector, president of the Kerrville Historic Downtown Business Alliance and one of the authors of the original sign ordinance, has expressed opposition to these variance requests. Writing specifically about the Chamber’s electronic sign in a guest editorial that is scheduled to appear in Thursday’s newspaper, Mr. Rector stated: 

“…[T]he current Sign Code does state that any place an electronic sign is utilized its size is limited to 32 square feet.  The sign to be considered by P&Z is nearly 80 square feet (per side) and is one of the first sights to greet tourists and prospective new residents on Sidney Baker.  Many, including members of the current P&Z, worked diligently to create, as a wide community effort, the Kerrville 2050 Comprehensive Plan.  The submission of this sign request and the request for this variance reminds each of us that this 2050 Plan can’t just be enacted then put on a shelf and forgotten.  It will require each of us to show up at meetings, like Thursday’s P&Z Meeting, to remind our officials that this is OUR PLAN for OUR FUTURE KERRVILLE and it must not be derailed even for the best of intentions.”

The P&Z will consider both of these variances, along with other business, this Thursday, January 3, at 4:30 PM. City staff has not provided a recommendation to the commission on how to proceed, because staff has historically not commented or provided such a recommendation for sign ordinance variance requests. Thursday’s meeting is open to the public and is held in the council chambers on the first floor of City Hall.

If the commission approves these variances, the owners can proceed with their plans. If the commission denies these variances, the parties do have the right to appeal the decision to the City Council.

What do you think? Should exceptions be made for these two organizations? What type of precedent, if any, does this set for future variance requests? What do you want your community to look like in the long-term? Should large electronic signs be allowed? Sound off in our comments section on Facebook, or attend Thursday’s meeting to make your voice heard.