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Open-house signs on horizon

Ryan Carter

It was a full house, but the subject had to do with open houses.

Inside a City Council chamber packed with vocal but well-behaved

local Realtors, the council Tuesday directed staff to come back with


a report to the council on a changed city ordinance allowing

open-house signs to be posted on public rights of way. Those rights

of way include the corners of major streets with smaller residential



The council’s direction signaled a change of city policy on the

issue, and prompted new hope for Realtors who had been lobbying for

the change for more than a decade. City staff still expressed concern

over a change’s deference toward Realtors and liability issues. They

also reiterated the opinion that no compelling governmental interest

exists to change the ordinance.

But council members expressed cautious support for changed city

ordinance sections that for years prohibited any person from placing


“any movable or immovable object of any character whatsoever” on any

public sidewalk or parkway, with certain exceptions. Open-house signs

were not an exception.

“I think the compelling state interest is property values,”

Councilman Jef Van der Borght said.

Van der Borght said the signs promote business -- real estate


“I think our code needs amending to include real estate signs,”


said Councilwoman Marsha Ramos, who agreed that the compelling

governmental interest was economic.

She also said a public value exists in being able to direct

potential buyers to the homes.

Councilman Todd Campbell said he could support the change, but

wanted to see a survey on what kinds of ordinance other cities have

relating to the signs. He and City Atty. Dennis Barlow expressed

concern over the vulnerability of the city to court challenges,

perhaps on equal protection grounds.

But the Realtors and residents who spoke during an oral

communications period begged to differ.

They showed maps and examples of signs, showing how the current

ordinance prohibits Realtors from doing business. In one example,

they held up a crude example of a makeshift sign that would be the

only alternative to advertise if they could not post a proper sign.

“We strongly feel our signs are compelling state interests,” said

Shelley Rizzotti, a Realtor and board member of the association,

adding that 266 residents have signed a petition supporting the


Realtors added they would police themselves and asked that the

city closely regulate the signs. Those regulations include limiting

them to one sign per house per intersection and six signs per open


Code-enforcement officials said that if the ordinance is changed,

it should include amendments such as requiring a permit with fees to

cover costs of enforcement and establishing days and times when the

signs can be posted.

City Councilman Dave Golonski recused himself because he was

studying for a real-estate license, he said.