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As the city of Sedona is updating its 20-year-old sign code, a court ruling has forced the city to loosen restrictions in one important area of that code.

The Sedona Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday, March 21, voted to support allowing off-premise signs for all residents and businesses except along ADOT rights-of-way, which extends 30 feet back from the roadway. However, the signs will have to adhere to quality standards as set by the city. And, the number of signs and how long each can be in place has yet to be determined.


This change is a direct result of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion based on Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a case filed by a Gilbert church. A city report states that the court’s “opinion has significantly impacted the way cities can address signs. The primary finding of this opinion provides that sign codes cannot regulate content [sign message and words] and can only focus on such things as location, size, height, color, material and function.”

In goes on to state, “One of the most significant changes in this draft is the prohibition of all off-premise signs, including signs in the right-of-way, such as garage sale and real estate signs.”
The commission will be meeting Thursday, March 30, at 3:30 p.m. at which time it may approve a draft to the Sedona City Council regarding the updated sign code.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commission went over several areas within the sign code draft including sign illumination/number of colors, on-site directional signs, sign area, window tinting, landscaping, drive-thru menu signs, canopy signs in Uptown, grand opening signs, number of days allowed for temporary signs and real estate lead-in signs. Each will be addressed in the final draft of the updated code.

Sedona has one of strictest sign codes in the state as a result of maintaining the “natural surroundings, climate, history and people of the city while providing the Sedona community with its unique charm and beauty” the city report states.

While city staff said they understand the desire from the real estate community to continue its practice of placing off-premise signs, not to mention the significance of the Supreme Court decision, in their report they listed their concerns of this type of signage. They said it:

  • May contribute to excessive sign clutter, be distracting or create illegible sign situations.
  • May negatively impact the aesthetic beauty of the city’s natural and built environment.
  • May contribute to sign litter when signs are improperly constructed or use flimsy materials.
  • May negatively impact the quality of life by taking away from the appearance of the streetscape.
  • Will be difficult to enforce, requiring additional resources, including staff and permit tracking software.

“As I look at this, there are good arguments on both sides of the issue,” said Commissioner Larry Klein, who noted that his wife is a local real estate agent. “But when I worry which is more important, it’s much more important to me to not negatively impact this economic activity [real estate] in Sedona. That, to me, is much more important than any potential sign clutter.”

Chairman Marty Losoff asked if there was a compromise when it came to this aspect of the sign code as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach.

“All of the municipal attorneys have been trying to come up with an acceptable compromise,” City Attorney Robert Pickels said. “We have not arrived at a compromise solution that will work. That’s why it’s been characterized as an all-or-nothing proposition.”

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