At its next meeting, the Daphne City Council may be considering changes to political sign regulations within the city’s sign ordinance that could affect how many signs residents and business can display.
If adopted, an updated ordinance would limit residents to two non-illuminated signs per lot or parcel in a residential zone, and one non-illuminated sign on private property in commercial, business and industrial zones for each candidate and each issue. The ordinance would also limit the size of political signs in business, commercial and industrial zones to no larger than 32 square feet and no taller than eight feet in height.
Councilwoman Angie Phillips said private residents should have the same opportunity to voice their political opinions through signage as business owners, who would be allowed to post one sign per candidate and per political issue, while homeowners would be limited to two total signs.
“A private resident should have as much ability to show support for political candidates as a business owner,” Phillips said.
Councilman Ron Scott said he wasn’t aware political signs in residential areas were a problem for the city, because many neighborhood associations already have covenants banning yard signs. He said a two-sign limit would keep residents from displaying too many signs, to the detriment of their neighbors.
“If we don’t have some limit, I can see some homeowner who will want to tick off his neighbor and put 73 signs in his yard,” Scott said. “I don’t think this has been a problem historically in residential areas. I think two signs per residential lot is on firm ground.”
Others, like Councilman Robin LeJeune, said the sign ordinance change might restrict the First Amendment rights of those in residential areas.
“I believe the citizens should be able to express their freedom of speech in that matter, and if there are 73 issues on the ballot, they should be able to have 73 signs addressing each issue,” LeJeune said. “We do have the ability to set limits on how long they have them out, but we shouldn’t hinder their ability to practice freedom of speech.”
Mayor Dane Haygood suggested the City Council could pass the ordinance and make it effective after the upcoming municipal elections in August to avoid the appearance of limiting speech before an election. LeJeune questioned whether that was a way to avoid making a decision.
“For us to table this until after the election, that’s kind of like we would be hiding behind having to make a decision,” LeJeune said. “We have a major election coming, but we are going to say we don’t want to do anything about this ordinance because we don’t want to make a decision? I don’t want to do that.”
The ordinance was a first read on May 2, meaning it could see a vote at the City Council’s next meeting on May 16.