Commission also hears first reading for church property rezoning, gets update on LakePoint developments
Members of the City of Emerson Planning and Zoning Commission heard the first reading of a proposed text amendment to the municipality’s sign ordinance at a public meeting held Thursday evening.
“It was a lot of our at-home work,” said Emerson Assistant City Manager Todd Heath. “The problems that we have are there have been several court cases recently, specifically some in Georgia, regarding interpretation of a sign ordinance and its constitutionality.”
It all boils down to how a local government approaches sign content, Heath explained.
“Say a yard sale sign were to be only allowed to be put out for a certain period of time versus a different type of sign, a political sign, for instance, for a different period of time,” he said. “Technically, we’re creating a regulation that’s in violation of free speech.”
From an administrative perspective, Heath said the biggest proposed change to the City’s sign ordinance is the creation of an appeals process.
“If you were to apply for a sign permit and were denied, you really have no appeal rights, it could just go for a lawsuit to superior court,” he said. “We’ve added in a method now for those who feel that maybe the regulations haven’t been interpreted properly, that they can come before this body and present their case … if the decision was an error, then you could overturn it.”
The fees, Heath said, are also being “minimally” changed.
“Some of our fees were very expensive and you weren’t really allowed to combine sign packages, like a retail establishment, there was a fee for the sign at the drive-thru, a fee for the sign on the building,” he said. “We just said ‘Hey, submit it as a package, one fee, we’ll look at all the wants and then give you your permit.'”
At the moment, the City of Emerson continues to impose a moratorium on all new signs within the municipality boundaries.
Heath said that was enacted, in part, in anticipation of a deluge of electronic billboard applications.
“We didn’t see that we had adequate protection to prevent those from popping up at every intersection in town,” he said. “So we said ‘Hey, we better talk to our attorney that handles signs and see what we need to do about this.’”
And from there, Heath said City officials determined that Emerson’s entire signage ordinance was in need of retooling.
Depending on how the variable of COVID-19 plays out, Heath said he expects the sign moratorium to conclude in August, adding that the local government has about half a dozen applications that are already lined up in the queue.
The roughly 30-page text amendment will require a second City of Emerson Planning and Zoning Commission reading. The Emerson City Council will hear two readings of the proposed changes before casting an official ordinance vote.
“In general, our old ordinance started off with the applicability and the scope, and then it got into the definitions and then how to measure a sign,” Heath said. “This ordinance is more applicability-scope-definitions, but then it gets into each type of sign and it just lays out everything regarding that sign … you don’t have to search for dimensions here, or how to measure here. You go to ‘A-frame signs,’ that’s everything there for A-frames, you go to ‘billboards,’ that’s everything for billboards.”
The commission also heard the first reading of a requested rezoning for a piece of property near Emerson Baptist Church.
Heath said the church is looking to sell the property to All South Electrical Constructors, Inc., a company he said wants to relocate their business from Kelli Clark Court to Joe Frank Harris Parkway.
“They basically plan on taking the same, exact building and reproducing it there on 41 on approximately seven acres,” he said.
The property is currently zoned residential. Heath said the applicant looks to rezone it to C-2 commercial. Additionally, Heath said the business would require a conditional use permit to operate a contractors' office on the parcel.
“The rezoning, in effect, would also produce a conditional use permit, if approved,” Heath said. “One of the most important items to pay attention to when you’re considering rezoning is our future land use map … ideally, we would hope that this would be rezoned commercial at some time.”
The church, he added, will remain exactly where it is now.
The rezoning request requires a second reading before the Emerson Planning and Zoning Commission before being forwarded for city council considerations.
However, he said the City has no plans of closing the crossing.
“We have considered adding in a physical barrier that would keep trucks from crossing the railroad tracks, but it’s not the best practice,” he said. “It sort of sets us up for a liability issue and we’re worried that it could inhibit emergency services.”
Heath wrapped up the public meeting by noting that City officials had issued a land disturbance permit for the long-planned QuikTrip gas station near LakePoint Parkway. He also said a grade plan for a proposed $40 million hotel adjacent to the Champions Center indoor pavilion
has been approved, although as of late last week, water and sewer fees for the project have not yet been paid.
“We haven’t heard anything from them since we issued the permit a month and a half ago,” Heath said.
With LakePoint Sporting Community resuming operations, Heath said he anticipates hearing more on the high-dollar project shortly.
Heath mentioned a recent news broadcast, in which an Atlanta television affiliate reported some questionable numbers about LakePoint’s revenue.
“I heard that reporter say that that’s a $100 million a year operation,” Heath said. “I looked at their occupational tax and said ‘Oh, I don’t think they reported that to us.’”