Fraser amends sign code after ACLU lawsuit
In response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against Fraser, the board of trustees approved some changes to its sign code Wednesday evening.
Residents are now allowed up to four 8-square-foot yard signs per residential lot with a maximum height of 5 feet, 6 inches. The town also updated its definition of a wall sign, allowing unlimited art on residential walls, as long as it is no higher than the eave or parapet line.
The changes also clarified that signs in residential zoning do not need a permit. The changes to the sign code attempt to strike a balance in respecting residents’ First Amendment rights and maintaining the aesthetics of the community.
“The overall approach is to make the sign code more defensible under the case law in Colorado and the country that requires First Amendment speech be made available … especially in residential districts, to express their First Amendment speech in a way that is consistent with community values and allows you to still have good control over signs in the community,” said Jerry Dahl, special counsel for the town.
In July, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the town on behalf of two residents, Melinda McWilliams and Alan Jensen, who began posting two-sided displays in their yard in 2016 with messages about U.S. President Donald Trump and calling for action on global warming.
Ultimately, McWilliams and Jensen had eight signs in Jensen’s yard until September 2018 when they received a letter from the town telling them to remove the signs or face prosecution for violating the sign code.
The ACLU argued that the code “imposes drastic and unjustifiable limits on residents’ rights to express their views with messages posted on their own property,” and claimed the regulations were content-based, which violates the First Amendment.
Previously, the code required signs in town be permitted and meet specific size, location and safety guidelines, as well as having residents pay a fee for each permit. Yard signs were restricted to one sign per lot and not to exceed 6 square feet.
Not only do the changes allow residents more yard signage, but the updated definitions help protect the murals and public art the town has worked to cultivate over the years.
“You can paint your house or garage in any color or style you like and if you want to put a mural of the mountains or an American flag or whatever you want to put, that’s perfectly fine,” Dahl said. “The town doesn’t regulate that and, in fact, there’s been support in the town for those kinds of programs.”
In non-residential areas, the town restricts decorative paintings to one wall of the building and allows no more than four decorative panels per building.
Dahl also clarified that the town no longer allows projecting or swing signs and noted that any sign type not listed in the code is prohibited.
In a statement, the town said “the Fraser Town Board adopted amendments to the Sign Code to accommodate these forms of creative expression while also respecting the First Amendment as recently established in Reed vs. Gilbert.”
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