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City sign rules to be studied

Proposed revisions to City of Lawton ordinances that govern signs were referred to a City Council committee Tuesday after council members indicated they had problems with some provisions.

While Ward 5 Councilman Dwight Tanner said his problems could be solved by removing a provision requiring anyone placing temporary signs to obtain a city permit. Ward 2 Councilman Keith Jackson said council questions were too involved for a discussion on the council floor. Jackson suggested the council appoint a study committee to look at those questions more closely, then bring recommendations on changes to the full council.

At issue is a series of revisions that city staff, members of the City Planning Commission and residents in the community have spent months crafting. Community Services Director Richard Rogalski said the review began with an effort to make the city's sign ordinances "content neutral," meaning any regulations imposed are not based on message or who conveys it. City officials have said the content neutral provisions came as a result of a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, and Lawton is among the municipalities across the nation that are rewriting ordinances to ensure compliance.

But City Attorney Frank Jensen said the Supreme Court ruling merely reiterated what already is long-standing law: regulation of signs based on their message or content is unconstitutional.

"We don't get to say what is on the sign," Jensen said, explaining all the city can regulate, from a legal standpoint, is a sign's location and characteristics.

Rogalski said while existing code makes provisions on content, such as detailing religious or political issues, the amended code removes all those distinctions. What is left are definitions related to signs and requirements centered on size, number, placement, materials, duration of placement, and permitting of on-premise temporary signs.

That permitting process drew the attention of Tanner, who said while he likes many of the new/clarified provisions, he strongly disagrees with the requirement that requires residents to obtain a permit for their signs.

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