Town Council Special Session

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  Item # 1.       
Meeting Date: 07/31/2019  
Requested by: Bayer Vella
Case Number: OV1802844



The Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended approval.
Item A. This item is an administrative requirement declaring the proposed code amendment a public record (Attachment 1, Exhibit "A" Resolution).

Item B. The purpose of this item is to consider proposed revisions to the zoning code standards related to signs in the right-of-way (Attachment 2, Exhibit "A" Ordinance).

The first part of the proposed revisions are related to the standards for signs that are currently allowed in the right-of-way, which are primarily due to changes in the state and federal laws. Within our right-of-way, the Town is only allowed to regulate the placement, size and duration of the sign, but not the content on the sign. However, this relatively new legal standard does not apply to private property. In summary, the proposed revisions are intended to bring the zoning code in line with state and federal laws for signs in the right-of-way. 

The second part of the code amendment is related to a proposal to allow monument and entryway signs in the right-of-way. The proposal was included in the draft code due to a request from a local church.

The revised standards in the proposed draft code (Attachment 2) are only related to signs in the right-of-way. A right-of-way is a section of land dedicated to a public entity, such as the Town or state, to allow for roads, sidewalks, utilities and other related public facilities. A right-of-way is usually wider than the actual paved surface of the road and generally includes the sidewalk or multi-use path, and a landscaped or natural desert area as shown in the following aerial photo.

The Zoning Code has always allowed certain types of signs within the right-of-way, such as temporary signs and permanent kiosk signs as shown below. The proposal allows the same size and types of signs without regard to content.


The amendment also proposes adding two new sign types in the right-of-way under limited circumstances; Monument and Entryway signs. Examples of a Monument sign and an Entryway sign are provided in the photos below. Generally, Monument signs are placed on the private property of a commercial development and Entryway signs are placed on the private property of a residential subdivision. On private property, the content on the sign may be legally regulated. However, once a sign is in the right-of-way, the message can no longer be regulated. The aim is to enable use of these signs only when the right-of-way is so wide or contains other site conditions that substantially impede visibility.

For clarity, this review of sign standards is divided into two parts. The first part contains the types of signs currently allowed in the right-of-way and revisions due to the State and Federal changes, which serve as the basis for the proposed changes. Second, is the proposal to allow either monument or entryway signs in the right-of-way under specific circumstances.

Part 1: Signs Currently Allowed in the Right-of-Way

The Zoning Code allows certain types of signs in the right-of-way, which are listed below and detailed in Attachment 3.
  1. Political sign zones and non-commercial signs (outside of the sign zones)
  2. Non-commercial signs
  3. Off-site real estate
  4. Special event
  5. Sign walkers
  6. Community event
  7. Kiosk
Changes to State and Federal laws require the Town to re-examine the standards related to each of the above sign types. The change is to ensure that Town regulations are content neutral. The current Zoning Code sign standards are written to allow specific sign users to place signs in the right-of-way with specific messages. For example, an "off-site real estate" sign is allowed within the right-of-way that advertises an open house. 

In 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision on a case, Reed v. Gilbert, that affected sign codes throughout the country. That decision stated that jurisdictions could no longer regulate the message on a sign in the right-of-way, such as a sign that reads "open house," nor could a jurisdiction limit the use to specific groups. The Supreme Court determined that signs in the right-of-way must be reviewed in a "content neutral method," which means that the Town must regulate a sign without having to read the message. It does not matter if the sign reads open house or advertises a product sale, the content of the sign is irrelevant. The sign can only be reviewed to ensure it meets the size, location and manner in which it is placed in the right-of-way.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, the Town Council adopted Ordinance (O)15-13 (Attachment 4) as a stop gap measure until the Zoning Code could be re-written to meet the new Federal standards. This action was done to ensure the code, regardless of how it was currently written, would be enforced in a content neutral manner. As such, all sign types currently allowed in the right-of-way were made available to all sign users regardless of the message. 

Since 2015, several other jurisdictions began to revise their sign codes to meet the new Federal standards. Research of local jurisdictions found that many are choosing to revise their codes in a variety of ways. A table of local jurisdictions and their sign allowances is included in Attachment 5. Some jurisdictions choose to not allow any signs in the right-of-way, others choose to allow limited sign types, and still others allow most types of signs in the right-of-way. However, during an election period, jurisdictions in Arizona cannot enforce many aspects of their sign codes due to State law limitations.

In 2016, shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, the State of Arizona enacted legislation related to signs used by candidates running for a political office. New laws state that candidates can place signs in the right-of-way 60 days before an election and must remove them no later than 15 days after an election regardless of the local jurisdictions sign code standards. Coupled with the Supreme Court ruling, there are periods of time focused around an election when the Town has limited code enforcement controls for signs in the right-of-way.

The State also created new laws regarding sign walkers. Sign walkers are generally known as people who stand along the street holding a sign that advertises sales or events for businesses. The State determined that jurisdictions could not discriminate between commercial sign holders and people holding signs stating political opinions. As such, the Town must allow anyone to hold a sign in the right-of-way regardless of the message.

In order to bring the Zoning Code sign standards, for signs in the right-of-way, into compliance with State and Federal regulations, staff proposes to update each of the currently allowed sign types by:
  1. Removing references that identity specific sign users and the content of the sign
  2. Remove sign type duplications
  3. Incorporate State and Federal standards
  4. Simplify the code format
The draft code amendment (Attachment 2) reflects how the Town has been treating signs since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. The Town has been allowing the permitted sign types to be placed in the right-of-way without regard to the message or content of the sign. As a result, this action has allowed the Town to have a 4-year testing period of the proposed sign code revision, which has demonstrated that there is an increase in temporary signs in the right-of-way during an election period, but otherwise, there has not been an over-proliferation of signs in the right-of-way.

Part 2: Monument and Entryway Signs

While the Town was in the process of drafting the code amendment, correspondence was received from a local church regarding Monument or Entryway types of signs in the right-of-way. The church, located on Tangerine Road, asked the Town to consider allowing permanent Monument or Entryway types of signs in the right-of-way. Their request states that there are visibility challenges due to the large amount of right-of-way land between their property line and the paved road (Attachment 6). 

Monument and Entryway signs are self-supporting permanent signs anchored into the ground that generally identifies the associated property. When a Monument or Entryway is located on private property, the code can regulate the content on the sign. However, due to the Supreme Court ruling, once a sign is located in the right-of-way, the Town cannot regulate the content of the sign. Currently, the only permanent type of sign allowed in the right-of-way is a Kiosk sign. Like most other permanent signs, Monument and Entryway signs have traditionally only been allowed on private property.  
Upon review of the request, staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission determined that the proposal to allow Monument or Entryway signs in the right-of-way may be appropriate under very specific circumstances. 

The following is a summary of the proposed Monument sign standards:
  1. Only allowed in the right-of-way of a minor or major arterial road as defined in the Town's General Plan (Attachment 7)
  2. Require at least a 100' right-of-way depth between the street and subject property
  3. Offer a reduced right-of-way depth of 20' if specific visibility circumstances warrant a reduction
  4. Require the Town Engineer and Planning Administrator to review and provide recommendation
  5. Require final approval by the Town Council
The proposed Monument sign standards are also included in the draft code amendment (Attachment 2).


A study session was held during the March Planning and Zoning Commission meeting to review the proposed code amendment. At the study session, there was discussion about code enforcement statistics and the political sign zone map. 

A hearing was held at the April Planning and Zoning Commission meeting regarding the proposed draft code. At that meeting, language about the movement of a sign held by a person (sign walker) was removed along with clarifying that the height of signs listed in the code are the maximum allowed.

The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the proposed draft as provided in Attachment 1. The staff report and meeting minutes are included in Attachment 8.


The Your Voice, Our Future General Plan provides the following applicable goals, policies and actions:

Goal Q:  A built environment that creatively integrates landscape, architecture, open space and conservation elements to increase the sense of place, community interaction and quality of life.

Policy Land Use 6: Maintain the small town, neighborly character and improve the design and safety of the built environment.

Action 125:  Maintain the unique character of Oro Valley by studying and updating signage regulations to emphasize identification and direction over advertising goods or services to maintain compatibly and minimum intrusiveness.

The proposed code amendment meets these goals by:
  1. Updating the sign regulations to meet Federal and State regulations
  2. Enabling Monument and Entryway signs to emphasize identification and direction for businesses/subdivisions (depending on actual content) without increasing the number of signs or level of intrusiveness
Two motions are required for this case.  The first motion is an administrative action to declare the amendment a public record.

The second motion is to approve or deny the proposed code amendment.

I MOVE to (APPROVE or DENY) Resolution No. (R)19-39, declaring the proposed amendments to Chapter 28 of the Oro Valley Zoning Code regarding signs in the right-of-way as shown in Attachment 1, Exhibit "A" and filed with the Town Clerk, a public record. 

I MOVE to (APPROVE or DENY) Ordinance No. (O)19-06, amending the zoning code Chapter 28 related to signs in the right-of-way as shown in Attachment 2, Exhibit "A."

(R)19-39 Reso. Public Record
(O)19-06 Attachment 2
Attachment 3 Table of Current Sign Uses
Attachment 4 Ordinance 15-13 and Report
Attachment 5 Local Jurisdictions
Attachment 6 Letter from St. Mark
Attachment 7 General Plan Street Map
Attachment 8 Planning Commission April 2019 staff report and attachments


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