Just over four months later, what does that mean to Metropolis residents?
“The new Zoning Ordinance as it applies to building occupancy, land use, building use and signs was enforceable last November but because it was new, we allowed a certain grace period or overlap or transition between the old and the new,” said Chad Murray, the city’s zoning administrator.
When it comes to one portion of the ordinance, the change of the calendar at the end if the month will signify a sign of change.
A history lesson
The City of Metropolis last passed a Zoning Ordinance in 1964 in support of its adoption of a Comprehensive Plan that looked into the future of how the city should develop.
The purpose of that Zoning Ordinance was to support the Comprehensive Plan — providing guidelines regarding use and occupancy of both land and structures. As development occurred in the city over the years, the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Ordinance as they were originally established were in need of a change. Amendments to the Zoning Code helped keep the document current, but eventually both documents were in need of revisions. That came about around 2004 when city officials started developing the city’s first Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district. The Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2007. The Zoning Ordinance took a little longer.
“The old ordinance was almost 50 years old. There have been a lot of changes in the way people live and the building ordinance needed to reflect those changes,” said Clyde Wills, a member of the Zoning Commission and chairman of the Planning Commission. “This was not a quickly put together document, it was under study for years as we looked throughout the city to see what needed to be addressed as it was developed.”
After further revisions to the draft following a December 2012 public hearing, the Zoning Commission — a mayor-appointed group of volunteers from the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals who developed the ordinance with consultants from Economic Development Resources — presented its final draft to the city council in September 2013. Following the council’s further revisions, the 115-page ordinance was passed on Nov. 27.
“In many ways, the new ordinance is similar to the old one — it promotes planning rather than helter skelter building,” Wills said. “The new ordinance was designed to make people plan and make sure what they want to use property for is legal and proper. The real key to living under the ordinance is the same as the old one — ask first.”
Those impacted by the Zoning Ordinance and its accompanying Zoning District Map are those who live within the Metropolis city limits and those who receive utilities from the City of Metropolis, an area known as the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) .
Signs of change
One of the differences between the original Zoning Ordinance and the new document in the inclusion of an article pertaining to signs.
“The old Zoning Ordinance was very limited on the subject of signs. That information was an independent ordinance,” Murray said. “The new Zoning Ordinance has guidelines pertaining to signs built into it.”
The ordinance defines signs as “any object, device, display, structure or surface or part thereof that is used to advertise, identify, display or attract attention to any object, person, institution, organization, business, project, service or event related to the premises on which the sign is situated by any means including words, letters, figures, designs, symbols, fixtures, colors or illumination.”
Murray explained it this way: “Most people probably think a sign is a billboard or physical item. They might not realize that when they put something in window — vinyl lettering or something like that — those are signs, too. Anything visible — a symbol, a sign or an item — by the public as you drive by a business or structure or parcel of land is considered a billboard, sign or street graphic.”
The new Zoning Ordinance contains many rules and regulations regarding the permits required and various forms of signage. And after April 30, Murray said the time has come to address signs that are considered prohibited.
“For portable marque signs specifically, these will be prohibited in the City of Metropolis after April 30,” he said. “We’ve given people plenty of time to make them as aware as we can of our Zoning Ordinance changes and those pertaining to signs.”
As the ordinance was being developed, “mobile signs were popping up all over the place, many in poor condition,” Wills said. “It deteriorates the look of the city, especially in the business district.”
Under the new ordinance, portable marque signs “are not non-conforming, they’re not grandfathered, they’re prohibited, which means they have to go now, they are not allowed anymore,” Murray said. “They can’t be a part of your permanent sign. They can’t be converted into a permanent sign.”
Sign owners need to make accommodations regarding these types of signs as after April 30 notices will be sent to the owners regarding their removal.
There are two exceptions to the portable marque sign rule: 1) they are permitted as a 30-day temporary sign while the business is waiting for its permanent sign; and 2) they can be used to promote special events, but not over 10 days. In addition, the rule does not pertain to businesses that put out signs daily.
The Zoning Ordinance’s signs article also contains sections that deal with:
• Off-premises advertising — Other than billboards, this is not allowed in the city. Simply defined, a billboard is an outdoor sign that rarely changes and refers to a business not associated with the premises.
• Abandoned signs — Once a business closes, it is the responsibility of the owner to take down the sign. Murray noted these pose a safety hazard.
• Signs permitted by right — These include campaign and real estate signs and are allowed without a permit.
With the new ordinance, grandfathering is also a thing of the past. With the exception of portable marque signs, “signs are now on a time frame,” Murray said.
From the passing of the ordinance, all signs that are considered nonconforming have nine years to become conforming.
“Nobody’s trying to make somebody take something down tomorrow,” Murray emphasized. “If you’re a businesses with an existing sign and it’s nonconforming — typically it either sits too close or it’s too tall — then you’ve got nine years to correct your sign and come in compliance with our sign ordinance. The city is hoping for more flush mounted signs as opposed to free-standing signs. However, any sign that is deemed to be a hazard to health or safety must be dealt with immediately.”
Murray suggests current business owners do a self audit of their signage, asking questions like: is it built too close to the right of way; is it safe; does it exceed the allotted square footage or height requirements.
“The easiest thing to do is to make sure your sign is permitted and follows the rules,” Murray said. “Always check to see if you billboard, sign or street graphic requires a permit. The process is simple and will go a long way in making a business owners investment that much more successful.”
Signs are just one of the many subjects dealt with through the city’s Zoning Ordinance, which contains guidelines that apply to land and building use and occupancy.
Land and buildings once occupied for a particular use may no longer be allowed. This applies to commercial, industrial and residential property owners. However, existing structures and uses that predate the original Zoning Ordinance or were in effect at the time of the current ordinance can be allowed to exist and operate in a non-conforming state.
With that in mind, Murray strongly suggests: “Anyone involved in buying, purchasing and occupying land or a structure in the City of Metropolis should check with Zoning first. Regardless of whether they’re building or not, they should check to see whether it’s zoned correctly before making an investment.”
As the ordinance was being developed, “one of the big complaints with old ordinance was mobile homes were spreading all over town,” Wills said. “The new ordinance allows them but restricts where they can go.”
Even in its current form, the Zoning Ordinance is still a work in progress.
“The zoning code, as new and defined as it may be, does allow for variables,” Murray said. “There’s a variance process, special use permits that can be issued that help this code to adapt. There are ways to amend and change the code that involve decisions by the city and public interest — there are public hearings if changes are proposed to this. If it’s not working, there are ways to make this change and adapt, there are processes that allow for that. It’s not a single rule — there are rules for it to be changed but because of notification those processes take one to three months to get done.”
So when it gets right down to it, Murray said, the best thing to do when it comes to any portion of the Zoning Ordinance is ask questions. Murray can be reached at 524-3411. The current Zoning Ordinance and its accompanying Zoning District Map are available at the city’s website, www.cityofmetropolis.com, and at the City Clerk’s Office, the Metropolis Public Library and the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce.