The debate over the city’s proposed new sign ordinance has mostly involved a now-seemingly settled fight over digital billboards, but the proposal also could have big implications for freestanding commercial signs across Marion County.
The Indianapolis City-County Council is slated to vote Monday night on the updated municipal sign ordinance, which for the first time in decades makes comprehensive changes to regulations concerning the size, aesthetics and locations of signs and advertisements in Indianapolis.
Neighborhood leaders cheered when the proposed ordinance passed passed out of committee earlier this month with a unanimous vote after council members stripped a provision that would have allowed digital billboards in Indianapolis.
The ordinance, if passed Monday night, also includes several big rule changes for business signs that some residents say have been flying under the radar throughout the approval process.
“The major part of the ordinance is the business sign portion,” said Ed Williams, a former city planner and current land-use consultant who often works for the business sign industry. “Billboards have always gotten too much attention because there are so many people who hate them.”
One of the biggest proposed changes involves significant height restrictions for freestanding pole and pylon commercial signs. Pole signs are those where the face is attached to one or more poles anchored in the ground. Pylon signs have their face attached to a base consisting of supports that are anywhere from 20 percent to 100 percent of the width of the widest part of the sign face.
Currently, pole and pylon signs are permitted to stand 40 feet tall in most commercial and industrial zoning districts, and 25 feet in office and mixed-use areas.
The proposed new ordinance sets the maximum height at 25 feet tall for pylon signs in commercial, industrial and mixed-used districts. Pole signs are allowed to be 20 feet tall in commercial and industrial districts. Existing signs are grandfathered in as long as the size, location or height is unchanged.
Williams said the height restrictions “will have a monumentally negative impact on the Marion County business community.”
“The change is based purely on aesthetics, which is subjective and, therefore, relative to individual preferences, and which is a very poor basis for legislation,” Williams said. “Many businesses and institutions depend on adequate identification and public exposure for success.”
But the city of Indianapolis says the rationale for the change is that “contemporary sign codes are moving toward shorter signs that are closer to the right-of-way,” according to communications officer Andrea Watts of the Department of Metropolitan Development.
“This lends itself to a more neighborhood commercial design scenario," Watts told IBJ, "rather than towering signs that are out of scale as compared to right-of-ways."
The ordinance has been making its way through the approval process for months. It passed the Metropolitan Development Commission unanimously in early December. And after postponing a January council committee vote on the ordinance over the digital billboard provision, it passed out of committee Feb. 11.