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St. Croix County considers rules that tighten sign standards

While the process for getting permits for smaller signs will be easier and less expensive, it won't be legal to erect a new billboard in most rural areas of St. Croix County under a proposed sign regulation ordinance.

The new ordinance, expected to be voted on by the County Board during its June 19 meeting, does not apply to the county's cities and villages or to the towns of Hudson, Forest and Cady - which aren't under county zoning.

If adopted, the new law will replace standards that have been in place for 30 years, said Planner Ellen Denzer. The county has had a moratorium on new permanent signs since January.

The proposed ordinance prohibits off-premises signs except directional, pre-existing signs and temporary signs, including those allowed during election campaign periods.

"They're very rarely allowed right now," said Denzer, pointing out that under the old law, billboards were permitted only in commercial and industrial districts, only along major highways and only with large separations between signs.

Under the new law, billboards ("permanent freestanding signs") that exist on July 1, 2007, will be allowed to continue in use. But, while the message may be changed, the signs can't be moved, added to or repaired if that costs over half the assessed value of the sign. Once a nonconforming sign has been removed, it cannot be replaced.

On-premises signs and off-premises directional signs are allowed in all zoning districts but are subject to ordinance standards and usually require land use permits. Temporary signs -- including on-premise construction or real estate signs, on-premise employment signs and on-premise special events -- are allowed in all zoning districts.

The new ordinance offers a "more efficient and user friendly time frame and process" for putting up signs, said Denzer.

Previously a person who wanted to erect a new sign had to apply to the Board of Adjustment for approval, a process that took time and cost $800 to $1,000. Under the new regulations, applicants whose signs meet ordinance standards may simply apply to the Planning and Zoning Department for a land use permit. That permit costs $300.

Some signs may be externally illuminated, but the light source must be shielded and aimed downward.

"There are some appropriate uses of lighting, but there are some things we don't want in the county," said Denzer.

The only non-static signs or illuminated signs that change in color or intensity of artificial light will be on-premises signs that change to update time or temperature information.

Prohibited signs include:

• beacons, bench signs and bus shelter signs.

• signs "and components and elements of faces of signs that move, shimmer or contain reflective devices."

• flying signs, such as blimps or kites, or inflatable signs that are connected to property.

• pennants, pornographic, portable or projecting signs.

• signs painted on a building, fence, tree or stone, except for building and window signs allowed in commercial and industrial zones.

Signs that are exempt from ordinance regulation include government signs, traffic control devices and temporary freestanding signs, containing no commercial speech, in farm fields and on lawns. The farm field signs must be two square feet or less in size and the lawn signs must be 36 square inches or smaller.

Denzer said 20 to 25 people attended the May 24 public hearing on the proposed revisions and five people submitted comments afterwards. Those comments will be considered by the committee, but Denzer expected no significant change to the ordinance before it's presented to the County Board.

For a full version of the draft ordinance, go to the county's Web site: and click on "Land Use Ordinance Revisions."