Currently, any restaurant or retail business in the commercial core can have a sandwich board if the proprietor gets a city sign permit. There are 92 such permitted signs in Aspen out of 457 eligible businesses, or a 20-percent utilization rate, according to a memo from the city’s community development office.
A 2015 decision by the Supreme Court in Reed v. Town of Gilbert mandated that municipal sign codes must be “content neutral,” meaning regulations cannot be based on what a sign says. This could upend local sign policy, since it disallows the city’s distinction that some types of businesses may have a sandwich-board sign while others cannot. It also opens the door to sign permit holders leasing the space on their boards to someone else, so the sign would function like a billboard with any manner of advertising message.
In response to the new federal precedent, planning and zoning officials and city council have been examining the sign code and passed an overall measure on Aug. 28.
Options included allowing sandwich-board signs only for so-called “second-tier” retail, one sign per building or one sign per 30 linear feet. Each of those options, however, had potential to greatly increase the proliferation of sandwich-board signs while also giving rise to fairness issues. Council instead opted to phase in a policy banning all sandwich-board signs, which was seen as the solution most equitable to all.
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