With the next election being for Ashland Town Council later this spring, town officials voted to bring their ordinance for political signs into line with federal law Tuesday night.
The new ordinance permits political signs up to 6-feet tall with no individual sign exceeding 6 square-feet in size and a maximum of 18 square feet per residential lot. The change also eliminates time limits for political signs. The size threshold is larger for commercial and industrial areas, where 32 square feet of political signage is permitted.
At issue was trying to balance constitutionally protected free speech with ensuring good zoning practices in town.
The final ordinance comes after several months of deliberation. In December, town council deferred action on the issue after failing to reach a consensus on how to balance practical zoning with first amendment protections. The first ordinance change before them eliminated time restraints but still limited political signs on residential lots to a total of 4 square feet and only one sign per candidate.
The issue came to council’s attention in September after a citizen pointed out that a number of political signs were on display – some in town council members’ yards – before the permitted 30-day timespan preceding an election.
Town Code also previously allowed only one sign per candidate on a residential lot, which could not exceed four square feet in size.
No citizens spoke for or against the proposal during the public hearing.
Before discussion on the matter began, Mayor Faye Prichard took steps to avoid the perception that the ordinance change was self-serving. Prichard is seeking re-election for one of two open seats this spring, the only incumbent to do so.
“It is not lost on me that as this comes before us tonight that it comes right at the beginning of council election season and I very much do not want it to look that this is self-serving,” she said.
Prichard said that she will not display any of her own signs outside of the previous 30-day limit before elections.
In the only other public hearing of the night, town council voted to approve $834,000 of budget amendments.
The monies reflect a $100,000 appropriation, which can be used for repairs to the circa-1948 Ashland Theater, deeded to the town last fall. Because the building came to the town unexpectedly, there was no line in the budget for maintenance of the iconic structure.
Remaining budget amendments reflect the receipt of several grants, proffer payments to the town and a reappropriation of unexpended capital funds.
Earlier in the evening, Town Council voted unanimously to award former 55th District Del. John Cox the key to the town.
“When John Cox ran for the House of Delegates, I didn’t know him very well; I knew that we came at things from different sides of the aisle and I knew he seemed like a nice-enough guy,” Prichard said. “Over the course of time that John served…what I came to find was that although we might not always agree on things, he was a man whose principle I always respected.”
Prichard further noted that during his time in the House, Cox acted as a good partner to the town. Cox stepped down from the House of Delegates following last year’s session. His legislative aide while in office, Buddy Fowler, now serves the 55th District in the Capitol.
“Exactly, what does this fit?” Cox asked, while accepting the key.
“Not the vault,” Prichard responded. “I’m pretty sure it fits bottled beer if you’re careful.”