Last week’s new sign ordinance addressed roof, wall and window signs throughout the city as well as some reductions in height and size for on-premise signage installed after the effective date of the new ordinance and some limits on electronic changeable message signs. As newly constructed signs are built, business must comply with the new sign ordinance. With the exception of changeable message signs, all existing structures may add new sign faces without complying with current code standards because of the city’s grandfathering allowance.
There are reportedly more than 60,000 grandfathered on-premise signs in the city of Houston, including 22,000 pole signs that were constructed years ago. These signs will continue to be in their current locations for years to come without a law that requires grandfathered signs to conform to the current sign laws at some time in the future. The result of this lack of strong sign regulations citywide has left a majority of the city — particularly freeways and thoroughfares — cluttered with on-premise signs and visual congestion of signage that is difficult to read and unhelpful as a way-finding tool for the businesses they are meant to serve.
The Quality of Life Coalition comprises more than 85 endorsing organizations dedicated to a significant reduction in signage blight through reviewing current ordinances, researching signage comparisons with competitive cities and exploring incentives to reduce existing grandfathered signs. Most of Houston’s major competitor cities have some type of conformity provision that requires grandfathered signs to ultimately be brought into compliance with current sign regulations: Austin, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, El Paso, Fort Worth, Irving, Sugar Land, Los Angeles, Raleigh/Durham, San Antonio and San Jose are some examples. Smart cities across the country are adopting comprehensive but simple sign regulations that are relatively easy to enforce and provide businesses with an even playing field, stronger economic development opportunities, increased property values and safety/aesthetic improvements — all at the same time.
The main takeaway from this is that these folks, along with the Chron editorial board, believe that Houston’s difference from these other cities is a competitive disadvantage. The Michael Berry position is just the reverse, that Houston’s difference in this matter is something that draws people – or at least businesses – to it. I’m still not seeing any objective data to support or refute either of those arguments, but at least now I feel like they’ve been defined.