Lawsuit against Fraser dropped after town changes sign code |

Lawsuit against Fraser dropped after town changes sign code

One of the sketches submitted to the town by McWilliams and Jensen, which were not approved. Jensen and McWilliams were represented by the ACLU in a lawsuit that claimed the town's sign code used content-based restrictions, which violates the First Amendment.
Courtesy ACLU

Following the approval of changes to Fraser’s sign code by the town board of trustees in September, the American Civil Liberties Union has dropped its lawsuit against the town. 

In July, the ACLU announced it was suing the town of Fraser on behalf of two residents, Melinda McWilliams and Alan Jensen, claiming the sign code violated their First Amendment rights with content-based restrictions for yard signs.

However, the town board amended the sign code in response to the lawsuit. In a news release from the town, Sarah Wieck, marketing director for Fraser, said the issues stemmed from the town’s mural program and its support for creative expression.

“The town sign code’s definition of a sign versus a work of art was problematic in light of the Reed vs Gilbert requirement that sign regulations be ‘content neutral,’” Wieck said. “Fraser recently amended its sign code to remedy these challenges and hopes it provides a model for other communities.”

The dispute began in 2016 when Jensen and McWilliams posted two-sided displays in their yard with messages about U.S. President Donald Trump and calling for action on global warming.

Ultimately, McWilliams and Jensen posted eight signs in Jensen’s yard, which stayed up 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.

At the time, 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.

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 and the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling Reed v. Gilbert.

The new code allows residents 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.

It also clarified that signs in residential zoning do not need a permit.

Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU and attorney on the case, was not available for comment Sunday afternoon.

Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin said he ultimately felt optimistic about the conclusion of the lawsuit.

“While it was unfortunate that this resulted in litigation, I think this is a good resolution for the community,” Durbin said.

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