DSFRT discusses sign compliance

Special to the PRESS

January 22, 2015

With the New Year came the elections of chairman and vice chairman for the city committees. The Development Standards Review Task Force (DSRTF) was no exception as Chairman Gar Treharne was nominated and reelected along with Vice Chairman Gabriel Vanounou. The Task Force followed the standard agenda with a time for public comments and approval of minutes for the November 2014 regular meeting. They went on to discuss signage issues at Cloud 9 on Padre Boulevard that brought some concern as to enforcement of non conformance as it relates to signage.

Dr. Sungman Kim, Director of Development Services for the City of SPI, presented the signage situation to the task force for discussion and action regarding “art in public space” at Cloud 9. The sign at Cloud 9 is raised to a height of 16 feet which does not conform to the current city ordinance for signage standards. However, as this sign was in place before the standards were set, the sign is considered legally non-conforming. Recently, the view from the north side of the sign has been changed from a striped design to show a graphic of the face of Jimi Hendrix, and city staff determined that the DSRTF should decided if this change would be allowed and determined as art in public places rather than as a sign.

Dr. Kim noted that because the sign was in place before the ordinance went into effect, this scenario is a tricky situation. If the task force considers this to be a sign, then it will still be non-conforming. Although it was considered legally non-conforming before, making the change to the sign would require an application process and approval by the board. The owner of the sign made no such request and already completed the change, so city staff recommended that the graphic be considered art in a public space. Dr. Kim added that the sign will only conform if it is destroyed and rebuilt to code, but the city can only require conformity if the applicant has changed 51 percent or more of the sign, which is not the case. He also said that professionally, he was respecting the city attorney’s interpretation that signs generally include words and noted that rather than approving the issue of nonconformity, this agenda item is about approving the graphic as art in a public place.

More than the issue of non conformity, members of the DSRTF were concerned about the applicant’s disregard for procedure as the sign was changed before a request for a permit was submitted. Task Force members did not want to confirm bad conduct. They were conflicted about the decision, but seeing no reason that it should not be considered art, Vice Chairman Vanounou made a motion to approve the graphic. Chairman Treharne reluctantly seconded the motion adding that he foresees problems with this scenario in the future.

Task force member Joe Logan was not satisfied with the decision and was concerned about setting a negative precedent for others to follow. He said that the task force was established to set a standard of uniformity in the community, and this could allow for people to get around that. Logan said, “There is a lot of litigation history about how art is interpreted and if it is truly subjective, and that’s really what you’re asking us to do ‒ that’s to determine if this is going to be public art,” adding, “Someone once said, if art is not controversial, it’s truly not art. Well, we have some controversy, so maybe it is art, but is this the right place for it?”

After much discussion, the DSRTF approved the request allowing the graphic at Cloud 9 to stay as is and to be considered art in a public space.

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