By R. R. Reasoner
The paramount problem with the New Albany sign ordinance is its enforcement. It is inconsistent, arbitrary, and unfair. What one business is forbidden to do, another business is allowed to do.
A few of the many examples of inconsistent enforcement
Internally lighted signs are forbidden in the downtown (C-1) zoning area. The 2006 ordinance does “grandfather in” internally lighted signs, but provides: “all sign replacement and/or upgrading shall conform to these guidelines.”
New internally lighted signs were installed at the Fred’s store on Main Street several years after the 2006 ordinance. I have no beef with Fred’s. I shop there often. Their bright, internally lighted signs do not offend me at all. However, the city simply failed to enforce the code.
“Monument signs” are those constructed close to the ground, often in an attractive brick structure. The code says that monument signs, wherever located, may not be internally lighted. Illumination must be provided by flood lights separate from the sign structure itself.
Yet, Renasant Bank on Bankhead Street has a new internally lighted monument sign. The panels on that sign were replaced last year. They glow brightly every night, about a hundred yards from my home. Does the sign offend me? Not at all. However, the city apparently did nothing to require compliance with its ordinance.
Fresenius Medical Care operates more than 2,000 dialysis clinics around the country providing treatment to patients in kidney failure. Last year they opened a new clinic on Dunmill Road and installed a new internally lighted monument sign, violating the city code. Should the sign be taken down? Of course not. Fresenius being there means local dialysis patients no longer have to make a 60-mile round trip for treatment. Certainly, the sign offends no one.
The point is that the city has again failed to enforce its own ordinance.
None of these businesses have done wrong. The city of New Albany is at fault for its failure, time and again, to enforce its own ordinance and to apply the law equally.
Sometimes, the city decides to enforce its ordinance
At other times the city has forbidden internally-lighted monument signs. The most outrageous example occurred in 2015.
Doctors Thompson and Childers, veterinarians of Marshall County, bought a veterinary clinic on Highway 30 West a few years ago. The wooden sign in front of the place was falling apart, so they spent about $20,000 on an attractive new sign. Unfortunately, they bought an internally-lighted monument. Sure enough, the zoning board said they couldn’t install it. They appealed to the New Albany Board of Aldermen, which has the authority to overrule the zoning board — by issuing a “variance” — at any time.
The aldermen considered the request for a variance at its July, 2015, meeting. Dr. Childers and his representative demonstrated that the new sign would look far better than the old one. They made a solid case, showing that neither good taste nor public safety would be threatened by granting the variance. The aldermen made no response. Then they were asked if any one of them could state a reason not to grant the variance. Not one did.
However, they refused to allow the variance, no reason given. Today the old sign is still the only one in front of the vet clinic, and it’s looking even worse.
Meanwhile, the vets installed New Albany’s rejected sign (see feature photo above) in front of their clinic in Holly Springs. Which sign do you think looks better ?