Controversial Sign Regulations Considered in Hilliard

The City of Hilliard is proposing tough new regulations on signs. If adopted, new businesses could only erect signs close to the ground. Lighted signs would have to be turned off after a business closes, and most signs in windows would be prohibited. A Hilliard official says it’s a matter of safety and aesthetics; members of the business community say they were never consulted about the new rules. WOSU’s Sam Hendren reports.

On Hilliard’s main thoroughfare — Cemetery Road — business and residential sections lie side by side or across the street from one another. The assistant law director for the city, Tracey Bradford, says the proposed rules would help Hilliard adapt to its rapidly expanding growth.

“I think we’re just trying to be a better Hilliard. The population has changed drastically in the last 10 or 15 years; we have a lot of development coming on board. And this is the time to create something that we want the community to still be proud of 20 years from now,” says Bradford.

The proposed rules will be reviewed tonight at a committee meeting of the Hilliard city council. But they aren’t the first rules that have been controversial with business owners. Last May, the city council voted to ban all internally illuminated signs — except for those along I-270. Existing signs are grandfathered, but the 7-month-old rule does not sit well with many retailers. Earl Cantrell owns Hilliard Lawn and Garden.

“They’re wanting signs that are lit from the ground or from above we just don’t understand their reasoning behind not wanting illuminated signs in the town if they’re done in good taste,” Cantrell says.

If the latest set of regulations is approved, Hilliard would prohibit all signs in store windows larger than 2-feet-square, which according to the city, would help police officers better see what’s going on inside. The new rules also would prohibit the erecting of signs mounted on poles – all new signs would be monument-style, close to the ground. The city’s Tracey Bradfor.

“[We]don’t really see the need for everybody looking up to see a business. It’s much more visible at the eye level. I think you’ll notice that it’s much more aesthetically pleasing and you can probably actually see the sign better than if it were higher up, Bradford says.

“The Chamber wants Hilliard to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye,” says Scott Rider, a board member with the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce, who says the city’s business owners depend on signs

Hilliard is a destination for people outside the community as far as businesses; and businesses in Hilliard cannot survive solely based on the revenue from people that live within Hilliard. And a sign is an important way for people to find us once they get here.”

The Chamber’s Scott Rider says city officials never consulted the business community before drafting the new regulations, which if passed would require that a business turn off its lighted signs after closing. Business owner Earl Cantrell.

“The signs, as far as we’re concerned, serve as an identity for the business and it also serves as a locator in town especially when you’re closed. With the new ordinance they want the signs turned out; they don’t want them lit after your business is closed. So I think that’s an unfair business decision,” says Cantrell.

But the new regulations may be a sign of the future. A professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University says more and more communities are adopting ordinances that attempt to control light pollution. Jennifer Evans Cowley says one way to do that is require less sign illumination. Sam Hendren, WOSU News.

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