Commission Moves to Remove Political Sign Time Restraints

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead County Commission approved a resolution of intent to amend the county’s zoning regulations to include 10 new changes, including one that would remove time restraints on political signs on zoned county land.

During a May 2 hearing, the commission voted 2-0 to accept the changes, which the Flathead County Planning Board recommended to the commission after a Feb. 12 meeting. Commissioners Pam Holmquist and Gary Krueger voted for the resolution of intent, and Commissioner Cal Scott abstained because he is currently running a reelection campaign that includes signs.

The resolution of intent states that a sign can be regulated in size, but the duration of a sign cannot be regulated.

After this resolution of intent comes 30 days of public comment, and that will be followed by a final vote from the commission on the amendments.

The previous political sign regulation stated that a political sign on zoned private land could not be “erected more than 30 days prior to and removed not more than one week after the election or event to which the sign pertains.”

That regulation also states that a political sign cannot be larger than 32 square feet, which the planning board did not alter. The amendment includes a comment referring to specific court cases about residential political signs, such as Collier v. City of Tacoma and City of Painesville Building Department v. Dworken and Bernstein Co.

At the heart of the matter is a person’s constitutional right to free speech, planning director BJ Grieve told the commission during an April 21 public hearing on the zoning amendments.

There have been court cases about this matter in different states, he said, and those cases determined people have the right to post signs on their property.

The matter came to light during the 2012 election, Grieve said, and the complaints the planning office received about political signs were not registered because the complainant had a problem with the sign’s aesthetics, but rather because the person complaining was from the opposing campaign.

Grieve also told the commission that the state Department of Transportation has removed any restrictions about time restraints on political signs, and cities in Montana have stopped attempting to enforce such rules.

Approving the amendment comes at an awkward time, Grieve said, because the primary campaigns for the 2014 elections are underway. But this amendment is not related to this year’s campaigns, he said, and has “been on the to-do list for a while.”

The other nine text amendments mostly clarified existing provisions and made the day-to-day use of the regulations easier for the public, including the administrative condition use permits that would be necessary for cell phone towers in the North Fork; changing references to documents with new names; adding livestock as a permitted use for agricultural zoning; clarifying the use of stables, both public and private, in agriculture and suburban agriculture districts; clarifying street and roadway standards; and clarifying where a caretaker’s facility may be located.

For the full text amendments, visit www.flathead.mt.gov/planning_zoning/meeting_informaion.php.

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