Development standards a good ‘sign’ of a community’s future

Wendy SmithFarragut, The Farragut Insider

I recently traveled to a place where I lived a generation ago. We had a 1-year-old when we moved away, and that baby of mine is now 25. I’m not going to reveal the name of the city because what I have to say isn’t nice. This was a place I loved and hated to leave – a gorgeous, graceful Southern city with a friendly, diverse population.

My family returned to visit friends a handful of times, but not during the past decade. So I was saddened to see how many shoddy shopping centers have sprung up along one of the city’s major gateway roads. A barrage of signage advertising everything from tattoo parlors to adult bookstores further detracts from the area. I would guess that many residents haven’t even noticed the gradual change.

This experience was fresh in my mind when I attended a workshop on the town of Farragut’s sign ordinance last week. This 60-page document was initially adopted in 1980 and updated in 1998. It will be updated again due to a recent Supreme Court ruling that says that municipalities can’t place stricter limitations based on the content of a sign. (That means a city or town can make rules regarding physical aspects of signs, but not on content.)

Currently, the town of Farragut’s ordinance has specific provisions for certain types of signs on public property like real estate, political, garage sale and directional signs for churches. Making the ordinance content-neutral could mean that all such signs go away or that signs with any type of content are now acceptable. The rewrite will be a challenge.

Amending the sign ordinance is bound to make some business owners nervous. During the April 29 workshop, Community Development Director Mark Shipley said he is open to revisiting current rules regarding the physical aspects of signage, given that many of the provisions will be rewritten. He talked about how sign ordinances can actually help business owners because signs are more visible when there are fewer of them.

“From a business perspective, the biggest objective should be, what kind of sign is going to be most effective for my business? More or bigger signs aren’t always better.”

You don’t have to travel out of state to see the difference a strong sign ordinance makes – you just need to drive east on Kingston Pike. But such ordinances do more than limit visual clutter. They keep us safe by requiring signs to be a certain distance from the road; they keep signs consistent, which promotes fairness; they protect property values by enhancing a community’s appearance.

Rules regarding signs or any other aspect of development can be hard to swallow because they require some immediate sacrifice. They limit our choices and call us to conform to a standard we didn’t design. To embrace standards, we have to recognize that it only takes one generation of bad decisions to make our community unappealing.

Let’s continue to support strong development standards in Farragut. After all, we might want those “babies” to move back home someday.

Wendy Smith is public relations coordinator for the town of Farragut and writes The Farragut Insider for the town’s website.

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