At the September 18, 2019 regular meeting, special counsel Gerald Dahl led the trustees through revisions made to the town’s sign code under Chapter 19, Article 6 of the Fraser Municipal Code. Dahl told the trustees that staff and the Planning Commission had spent time looking at the signs around town. “The overall approach is to make this sign code more defensible under the case law in Colorado that requires First Amendment speech be made available, especially in residential districts, to express their First Amendment speech in a way that is consistent with community values and allows you to still have good control over signs in the community.”

Photo courtesy ACLU

In July, Fraser residents Alan Jensen and Melinda McWilliams engaged with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a lawsuit against the town citing violation of the First Amendment; the Fourteenth Amendment; and article II, sections 10 and 25 of the Colorado Constitution. The lawsuit was filed in response to the town’s determination that the eight signs erected on their property were “wall signs” and not “works of art” per the town’s sign code and were therefore limited in number by the town code. The lawsuit cited a number of claims of unconstitutionality as it pertains to freedom of speech and expression, exempting certain types of expression from regulation based on the content. “Even if the Code were content-neutral, it is not narrowly tailored to advance any possible legitimate interest of the Town. The Code is hopelessly underinclusive, restricting certain signs while not regulating others that would presumably pose similar harms.”  It goes on to say “Without any justification, the Code chills peaceful political expression that is squarely protected by the First Amendment and article II, section 10 of the Colorado Constitution.” The suit remains in litigation at this time.

Revisions to the code include amending the code’s purpose under Section 19-6-110, adding ‘(8) These sign regulations, including provisions to control the size, location and number of signs, and the, enforcement, and maintenance thereof, are established in order to achieve, among others, the following purposes in addition to the foregoing: (a) to provide citizens within the Town of Fraser ample opportunity to exercise their rights to free speech, (b) to eliminate any conflict between residential signs and traffic control signs, (c) to eliminate any conflict between residential signs and the ability of pedestrians and motorists to see one another in or near the right of way, (d) to reduce distractions for motorists, (e) to reduce sign clutter, (f) to promote the health, safety and welfare of the community, and (g) to maintain and preserve the aesthetics of the community.’

Under Section 19-6-210 – Sign permit required, ‘(4) No permit is required for signs in residential zoning districts.’ was added.

Section 19-6-240 – Variances and appeals, item (c) was amended to read ‘Any sign type not specified herein is prohibited.’ 

Section 19-6-250 – Exempt signs, removed reference to temporary decorations and displays and works of art and murals. Specifics pertaining to yard, directional, sandwich board, site and incidental signs were directed to Table 6.1 and 6.2 under Section 19-6-310.

To determine appropriate sign standards, Town Manager Jeff Durbin told the trustees that staff had conducted a controlled experiment, mocking up yard signs of various sizes and numbers and overlaying them on three sample properties located around Fraser. 

“Based upon this exercise, we learned there’s a lot of signs that didn’t fit the bill for what our code states,” said Durbin. The final determination was that four 8 square foot yard signs, no higher than 5.5’, would be allowable.

As for the popular murals, Durbin clarified that the definition of Sign had also been revised. ‘Sign shall not include anything painted on or affixed in any manner to all or part of the walls of any residential building or garage’ had been added to the definition. “As you drive around town, murals and decorative panels attached to residences beautifies the town. Stuff that’s painted isn’t a sign – you can paint your house or garage. That is perfectly fine,” said Durbin.

The trustees unanimously approved Ordinance 473, amending Chapter 19, Article 6 of the town’s municipal code.

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