UPPER SOUTH EAST COMMUNITIES COALITION, INC - Environmental Preservation Group in Washoe County
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November 16, 2015

November 16, 2015

This update is to let everyone know that a critical supporter of the Coalition is asking for help to defeat a very significant change in city ordinances and we are asking for all of you to send a message to the City to fight the blight of on premises digital signs.  Imagine a large digital sign at the Mira Loma Shopping center or the Quickie Mart at the corner of McCarran and Rock or the Fed-Ex,   or the future possibility of digital signs on the SEC?

Please take a few moments to read the update below from Scenic Nevada and send comments to the City Clerk, whose contact information is included.  Please support the efforts of Scenic Nevada on our behalf.  Also, please consider forwarding to your friends and neighbors in Reno to ask them to oppose the proposed "new" ordinance and to support the September Planning Commission's recommendations. 

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What: Reno City Council Meeting
Where: Reno City Hall, 1 E. First Street
When: Wednesday, November 18, Starting at 1 p.m.

City Council Tosses Digital Regulations
In a surprise move the city council recently agreed to dump all of the proposed community-driven digital sign regulations in favor of new ones that perpetuates existing video, scrolling and flashing signs 24/7 and would allow new ones to pop up throughout the city. The new draft digital sign regulations will be reviewed Wednesday in a public hearing. 

Let the Reno City Council know your concerns. Email cityclerk@reno.gov or call 775-334-2030. The clerk's office forwards all emails and phone messages to the Council. Or come to the public hearing at city hall.

With little discussion of the far stronger regulations presented in the Nov. 4 draft, Mayor Hillary Schieve and Councilman Oscar Delgado astonished the room with an entirely new draft that obviously had been written prior to the noticed public hearing. See the new draft, click here. Scroll down to item F.3 at page 230.

Business Desires Trump Community Concerns
The unexpected move was made after dozens of auto dealers, resort, casino and sign industry representatives asked the council not to approve the planning commission recommendations that were painstakingly made during a five hour public hearing in September.

Those recommendations were based on input from the community and planning staff during public workshops and after a city survey of 266 respondents, showing 44% opposed digitals; 41% in favor; and about 15% uncertain.

Schieve and Delgado said their draft is meant to allow business to keep existing digital signs and to allow others to get new ones, while protecting aesthetics. But the sparse “protections” do little to minimize the negative impacts of digital signs. The requests that make up the new draft include:
  •          No changes in location. Digital signs will continue to be allowed everywhere within the city limits they are now, including the main thoroughfares like South Virginia, North Virginia, Fourth street, Mill Street, and the commercial parts of Plumb Lane and Kietzke Lane and in Midtown.
  •          No changes on what’s displayed. Video, flashing, scrolling, and all animation will continue to be allowed, day and night, 24/7.
  •          No public hearings for most digital signs, which oftentimes impact private property for miles. Only those proposed within 300 feet of a residentially zoned parcel must get a special use permit which requires a public hearing first.
  •          Abnormally high brightness levels at night; if approved the brightness levels are about five times brighter than what the sign industry requested and 15 times brighter than Scenic Nevada’s recommendation.
  •          No immediate relief from overly bright signs. Owners of existing digital signs that exceed even this liberal standard have two years to comply, which means no brightness changes required for the Wild Orchid sign and those for auto dealerships and casinos until December 2017.
  •          No substantial protections for Reno’s scenic vistas. Like the planning commission’s draft, the new council draft prohibits flashing animated signs within 300 feet of certain major highways, like Mount Rose Highway and a portion of Interstate 580, south of McCarran Boulevard. Large animated signs can easily escape this restriction, flashing changing images towards drivers day and night and blocking scenic views. For example, The Summit Sierra Mall digital sign would have been 350 feet from I-580, if it had been approved. Over 400 people signed Scenic Nevada’s petition opposing that sign and the city council unanimously denied the request.

No Time For Public Scrutiny
The council approved moving the new regulations forward in a 6 to 1 vote, with Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus opposed. She said the new proposed rules affected her ward the most and may not be in compliance with the city’s Master Plan, which says signs should match the architectural style and design of buildings. In Midtown, where the architecture is primarily mid-20 century brick buildings, digital signs wouldn’t match.

She and Councilwoman Naomi Duerr suggested the council get more feedback from the planning commission or from the community in public workshops. But the council voted to bring the new draft back for a “first reading” Wednesday. The final vote could take place two weeks later on December 2.
With the exception of casinos, Scenic Nevada requested that digital signs be prohibited. But, if the city continues to allow them, we had asked for far more restrictions to limit the honky-tonk and circus-like appearance from taking over commercial areas outside of downtown. 

Many in the community have objected to various digital signs, which are allowed under current codes and have been multiplying in the past few years. Digital signs are far more intrusive and a nuisance that could lower nearby property values.
The Reno City Council in January agreed to a moratorium, which temporarily halts permits, and gave us hope that new regulations would be developed to protect driver safety, property values and scenic views. The moratorium expires at the end of this month.
SouthTowne Sign
In a separate public hearing also on November 4, the city council in a 5-2 vote denied the SouthTowne shopping center request for a 61-foot-tall sign that would be 628 square feet; almost as big as a roadside billboard. It was proposed along Interstate 580 in south Reno. Mayor Schieve and Councilwoman Naoma Jardon voted to allow the sign.

The shopping center was asking for a variance and a special use permit to build a giant sign near the Damonte Ranch Parkway exit. The center requested almost double the allowed height and more than double the size, so the sign could be viewed from an elevated section of Interstate 580. 

Both city staff and the city's planning commission recommended denial of the variance in June and SouthTowne appealed that decision. The city council upheld denial of the permits largely because the sign was incompatible with the surrounding area and there were no hardships, which are required to grant the variance permit.

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