Council passes new sign ordinance

Still not sure about the wisdom of this, but it’s a done deal now.

With one dissenting vote, City Council on Wednesday passed a major revision to the city’s decades-old sign ordinance that supporters hope will improve what they see as Houston’s reputation as an unsightly destination.

The ordinance, which applies only to signs on the premises of area businesses that go up after Sept. 1, diminishes the maximum allowable height and square footage of signs by nearly half in certain cases, eliminates roof signs and regulates electronic displays, among other more specific rules that will apply to shopping centers or other multi-tenant locations.

Council members offered little in the way of debate about the ordinance, which was the result of more than a year of work by a 14-member task force that included city officials, commercial real estate agents and representatives from the sign-making, restaurant and apartment industries. Task force members said the proposals represented a compromise between business interests and consumers, and many stressed that the new requirements will not be imposed on businesses with existing signs.

Councilman M.J. Khan cast the lone dissenting vote after noting the new rules will give operating businesses an advantage over those that open after Sept. 1.

“When we have grandfathering of certain signs, if there is a new business who wants to be in the same vicinity … the new business will be handicapped,” he said. “So we are really, in some ways, discouraging new businesses to come in and open up their shops … Houston is the first choice for people who want to relocate or bring their business.”

Interesting that it was Khan who was the lone No vote. Usually, when something passes with all but one voting Yes, the one is Michael Sullivan. I’d have expected him, or maybe Anne Clutterbuck, who has expressed some reservations about this sort of thing before, to be opposed. I guess that speaks to the efforts of the task force, so kudos to them for that. I’d still like to see a study or some other objective evaluation of the competing claims about our business climate and our perceived ugliness.

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