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Posted on: March 4, 2020

About Atlantic Beach's sign regulations ...

SignRegulationsGraphicDid you know?

  1. The City of Atlantic Beach first adopted sign regulations in 1966. The regulations were amended in 1968 (twice), 1981, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1997 (twice), 2001, 2002, 2003 (twice), 2004, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
  2. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that regulations that categorize signs based on the type of information they convey (temporary, political and ideological) and apply different standards to each category are content-based regulations and, thus, are not allowed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  3. That ruling meant that nearly every community in Florida, and many throughout the United States, had sign regulations in place that were unconstitutional.
  4. In 2016, acknowledging the unconstitutionality of its sign regulations, the Atlantic Beach City Commission suspended its enforcement of its content-based sign regulations, including temporary, political and ideological signs.
  5. The City of Atlantic  Beach’s 2020 proposed sign code update would bring the city’s regulations governing temporary signs into constitutional compliance.
  6. In three recent public meetings to review the proposed update, including the Feb. 24 City Commission workshop, no citizens voiced opposition to the revisions that were presented. 
  7. The dates of the first and second readings of the ordinance updating the sign code have not been set. As such, the City Commission has not taken a vote or otherwise taken a position on the proposed sign regulations. 
  8. The City wants to hear from Atlantic Beach residents on this and all matters. You may speak at any City Commission meeting; email the entire City Commission at electedofficials@coab.us; contact any of the city commissions directly (see www.coab.us/commissiondirectory); and/or contact Planning and Community Development Director Amanda Askew at aaskew@coab.us.

The Supreme Court case

In the case Reed et al. v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, et al., (No. 13-502, June 18, 2015), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that regulations that categorize signs based on the type of information they convey (e.g. temporary, political and ideological) and then apply different standards to each category are content-based regulations of speech and are not allowed under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In this case, Gilbert, Ariz., had sign regulations that prohibit the display of outdoor signs without a permit, but exempts 23 categories of signs, including the three relevant here:

  • Ideological Signs are defined as signs “communicating a message or ideas” that do not fit in any other category and may be up to 20 square feet without placement or time restrictions.
  • Political Signs are defined as signs “designed to influence the outcome of an election” and may be up to 32 square feet, but may only be displayed during an election season.
  • Temporary Directional Signs are defined as signs directing the public to a church or other “qualifying event” and include greater restrictions: No more than four of the signs, limited to six square feet, may be on a single property at any time, and signs may be displayed no more than 12 hours before the “qualifying event” and 1 hour after.

Upon appeal, the United States Supreme Court held the sign provisions are content-based regulations of speech – the categories of temporary, political and ideological signs are based on their messages and different restrictions apply to each category. As such, the restrictions that depend entirely on the sign’s communicative content and are unconstitutional.

Helpful links (in chronological order): 

Want to know more about how communities are dealing with topic? Here’s a helpful essay on Florida sign regulations, legal issues and the First Amendment by Patrick W. Krechowski, Esq.

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