Thanks to Jameson’s Irish Bar for their support.
West St. Paul’s sign ordinance has made international news in the past week or two, prompting all kinds of questions about city code.
We recently explored 10 weird ordinances in West St. Paul, but we didn’t touch the city’s sign ordinances. That’s because there’s a bunch of weird details in West St. Paul’s sign ordinances to explore. So let’s look at some of the especially weird laws.
Disclaimers: Just like we did last time, let’s offer a few quick disclaimers. We’re not lawyers, so read the code yourself. Second, weird is in the eye of the beholder. Finally, this is more for education (and a little entertainment) than mockery.
10 Weird Sign Ordinances in West St. Paul
- Signs on fences: Thanks to the latest news, everybody knows you can’t put a sign on a fence. What’s weird is that there are no exceptions listed, not even for ‘Beware of Dog’ signs. (153.434)
- Church signs: Multiple churches throughout West St. Paul have changeable copy signs that are prohibited by code, but most of the signs pre-date the code and are considered legal nonconforming signs. In some ways that’s good since we’ll have no new church signs with bad puns (cuz church marketing sucks), but it also means we’re stuck with the ones we have. (153.436)
- Old pylon signs: Pylon signs—the standard sign with a big shape on top of a skinny pole—once littered Robert Street but have now mostly been prohibited by code and replaced with monument signs. But they still dot Robert Street thanks to that legal nonconforming issue. But if you miss pylon signs, at least one of them has been saved. The JT Hamburger sign came down in 2017 to make way for Dunkin’/Baskin-Robbins, but Steve Bauer saved it and you can see it in the collection of the Little Log House Pioneer Village in Hastings. (153.436)
- Fireworks: While you might think the West St. Paul sign ordinance is a little too detailed, it does save us from signs with “any form of pyrotechnics.” (153.434)
- No rotating: Rotating signs are prohibited, which means anyone thinking of recreating the iconic West Twins Theater rotating sign is out of luck. (153.434)
- Yard signs: In residential areas, you’re limited to a single sign no larger than six square feet. That means if you already have a ‘proud of my graduate’ sign then your “All Are Welcome Here” sign is not welcome. City Council recently discussed yard sign rules, but couldn’t agree on any changes. What’s especially weird here is, given the thoroughness of how the ordinance defines a sign, many yards already have more than one sign. (153.433 and 153.435 D)
- Electronic signs: West St. Paul ordinances are also rather specific about electronic message signs. Any kind of animation, motion, or distracting transition effect—think dissolves, spins, and fade outs (even star wipes!)—are prohibited. A message also has to appear for a minimum of eight seconds before changing. (153.435)
- Statue: In 2006, McDonald’s had to remove its Ronald McDonald statue thanks to the sign ordinance. The code includes “sculptured matter” in the definition of a sign and they’re only allowed one sign. So when McDonalds added a new sign, the statue had to go. Aside from fast food mascots, this definition in the ordinance could also potentially prohibit or seriously limit public art. (153.004)
- Residential: The sign ordinance has detailed specifics for different business and industrial zoning areas, but not residential. It lumps big apartment complexes, churches and schools, and single family homes into the same category. They’re all supposed to follow the same rules. (153.436)
- Election: During an election, there’s practically a sign free-for-all. State law preempts local sign ordinances, starting 46 days before the primary and running until 10 days after the general election, stating, “all noncommercial signs of any size may be posted in any number.”
Watch for future installments of weird ordinances in West St. Paul: parks.
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