Saturday, October 3, 2009

Community Council to discuss Sign changes and allowed locations for Personal Care Homes

City of Dunwoody Community Council
Thursday, October 8, 2009 – 7:00 PM
41 Perimeter Center East,
City Council Chambers


Discussion of multiple text amendments and revision to Chapter 21: Sign Regulations

Discussion of text amendment to Chapter 27, Section 2C-3(b) ‘Personal care home, family’ and 2C-3(c) ‘Personal care home, registered’.

Discussion of revision to the Special Called Meeting date to address Comprehensive Plan Draft


DunwoodyMan said...

I am glad the Community Council will now consider the current permissions of personal care homes - family and registered. However, Dunwoody should also evaluate the special land use permit for personal care homes – congregate (more than 16 people) in R-100.

Chapter 27 permits small personal care homes in residential neighborhoods as a principal use, but there is a special permit for allowing large ones as well.

The code offers a special permit for congregate personal care homes if located on a property of at least twenty five (25) acres. This might make one think the personal care home would be in the middle of the 25 acres – but there is nothing in the code stating such. Actually, a 3 story, 35 foot tall building, with perhaps 100 residents, and around-the-clock employees and trucks can be built 10 feet from a neighbor’s home. Yes, the interior side yard setback for R-100 is 10 feet. Accordingly, this could be permitting a 24 hour a day business to operate ten feet from another home. Imagine the traffic noise for other neighbors even if there is a decent setback: MARTA handicapped buses would become more frequent along with emergency vehicles, visiting family members, eighteen wheeler food delivery trucks and moving trucks. Loud cars from employees could be driving down quiet residential streets for a 2 am shift change in R-100. Is that what R-100 should become?

While there are probably very few places a congregate personal care home could be built in Dunwoody, for now, the code is poorly written and offers no protection for neighbors. It would be wise to address this before it comes up to prevent an area from losing its family appeal.

Joe Hirsch said...

[PART 1]>> To those who said incorporating Dunwoody would not lead to a government run neighborhood association, I encourage you to read the proposed sign ordinance in its entirety. Ask yourself if it is the true role of government to make these rules.

Additionally, Dunwoody really seems to be setting itself up for some hefty lawsuits. In its effort to maintain the quaint little farmhouse village image, we seem to sometimes ignore the US Constitution. Sure, everything is legal until it is challenged in court. Then, when we lose, we will have to pay. So, I wish our codes could be written with a little more thought, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to a city council member's request.

For example, colored string lights would now be permitted 45 days before a holiday and 10 days after the holiday [lengthening the current limits]. So, without a definition of "holiday", one could easily justify having such lights up 365 days a year. Heck, every day is a holiday in my book. I have explained this problem during a city council public hearing. Now, I hope someone will hang lights up on their bushes [in February, until May] to demonstrate my point.

Signs would now be prohibited if the signs are not "professionally designed and constructed" - is this inserted as a joke to see if anyone is reading this proposal?!?!?! That phrase is so vague, there is no way it could withstand any legal challenge. Who put in this proposal? Truly, who put that in the proposal?

It is now proposed that internally lit signs be prohibited... (because someone doesn't like them and thinks the power of government should be used to dictate a law against them)

Other areas of our sign ordinance are more difficult to legally dissect or for me (or others) to make suggestions. Such as, some "temporary" signs are permitted, like yard sale signs, which demonstrates a selection by the city for which types of messages are permissible. Dunwoody is effectively choosing what type of messages it deems important enough to legally permit for you to see – filtering out what speech it does not think you should. Though, if Dunwoody had no exemptions, even for signs such as "for sale" signs, then the city could be accused of prohibiting too much speech. Oddly, there are multiple vague opportunities in the code for variances, which could be interpreted as not providing equal protections to all citizens.

[my observations continue in Part II below]>>

Joe Hirsch said...

[…this is a continuation from Part 1 above]>>

Part II: In Dunwoody’s proposed sign ordinance it seeks to ban portable signs, including those carried or held up by a person. There would be a strong case of harm to First Amendment rights to free expression, association and petition if this is enforced. The distinction between commercial signs, danger notifications, political, religious, or personal messages is not explained very well. Thus to many, the medium of portable signs would be effectively wiped out, not allowing
this opportunity of speech to those who may not be able to afford other methods. For instance, some messages that would be directed towards those who live in a neighborhood may be silenced because there is not another form of communicating within a cost-effective or timely manner. Prohibiting portable signs eliminates an entire method of communicating. (Sure, many don't like people standing on street corners waving signs, but there may be other legal avenues to approach, rather than banning a form of speech.)

Are there ample alternative channels of communication available to the public if Dunwoody bans such portable signs? If the city is seeking to shift the time, place, or manner of communication by banning portable signs, it must legally have ample alternatives. I don't think those exist.

The Ordinance does not allow for prompt and spontaneous demonstrations in response to current events by expressions by holding a sign (form of speech). The proposed code simply attempts to identify political speech as campaign signs during an election.

If temporary signs don't interfere with, block, or impede traffic or pedestrian movement, this code proposal seems solely for the promotion of esthetic values that certain officials deem to be desirable. If temporary signs do violate obstruction laws, prosecute them as such – but not as a crackdown on speech.

The Ordinance is vague and overbroad, and thereby is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments by imposing unnecessary and unreasonable burdens on people who want to express their rights in traditional public forums. Hand-held signs are a traditional public forum. Unconstitutional burdens can include vague fee and expense provisions, a required indemnification agreement, liability insurance and a lengthy advance notice requirement. Much of the sign ordinance is confusing on what is permitted, when matters can receive a variance and lacks in some specifics on costs.

The city’s proposal also says it is sometimes permissible to have a temporary event sign, yet limits the number of times it is permissible to make such an announcement. Free speech would be limited in Dunwoody to 12 times. A church could announce their music concert 12 times. Why 12? And that sign can be placed two weeks before the event and one week after - giving new meaning to the word "temporary" [12 x 3 = 36 weeks of the year].

Laws should be precise and carefully researched. The dollar amounts awarded to victims of bad laws are not vague. I urge the city to further clarify its codes before making them worse.

Bob Lundsten said...

hey Joe,
Where did you go to law school?

Ellen Fix said...

Joe, I think your references to potential violations of Constitutional rights are well-founded. Of course, the holiday lighting restriction is positively silly. If they are referring to a "religious" holiday, well, such a law is an obvious infringement of federally-protected religious freedom. Besides -- is the Council unaware that certain religious groups have bonafide holidays 365 days a year? And there's a home in my neighborhood on Fontainebleau Drive that keeps a string of lights on a tree out front 24/7. It's pretty and adds to the decor of the property. Does the council intend to query this and other homeowners about which "holiday" the lights represent? If so, those are dangerous waters that government should fear to tread. And regarding signage restrictions, it will be difficult to dub Dunwoody anything but anti-community-friendly if people are required to pay a "professional" to create signs, or cannot cannot freely post them around the neighborhood, to locate their lost puppy or cat.