By Michael Howell
In a flurry of housekeeping the Ravalli County Commissioners repealed a passel of old ordinances last week. Copies of the ordinances were not available at the meeting so the commissioners approved them on first reading without actually reading them.
According to Commission Chair J.R. Iman, four of the ordinances had to do with dogs and it was decided to repeal three of them and combine them into the fourth. He said three of the ordinances had to do with indecency but had been ruled against in the courts.
“Why have rules on the books that the court won’t let you enforce?” said Iman.
Iman said the other two ordinances repealed were the Impact Fee Ordinance and a Nuisance Ordinance.
At Commissioner Greg Chilcott’s suggestion, it was decided to separate out the county’s sign ordinance for future consideration. He said it had drawn a considerable amount of public involvement when it was adopted in 2000 and the public should probably be involved in any consideration of repealing or changing it.
The commissioners discussed the sign ordinance at a meeting Monday morning, September 12.
Iman said that the ordinance was outdated and definitely needed revision. State law has changed concerning placement of signs along state highways. Iman was against merely repealing the ordinance while another was crafted. He said that when the commission worked on the sign ordinance the first time, it set a deadline for the new rule to go into effect.
“The result was that about 18 to 20 big signs went up real quickly to beat the deadline,” said Iman. “I don’t want to throw this thing out and then create another deadline.” He advocated keeping the current ordinance until suitable amendments could be worked out between the commissioners and the planning staff and the public.
County Planner Tristan Riddell told the commissioners that the current ordinance basically prevented signs from being placed along the highway. He said a review and analysis of the ordinance had been done by the Land Use Law Clinic at the University of Montana in 2008 and it’s basically just been sitting on a shelf ever since.
Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg stated that the ordinance did have valuable restrictions on erecting and removing political advertising at election time. She suggested that the commission might consider making the restrictions the same as in state law, which is that signs may go up 90 days before the election and must be removed before 30 days following the election. The county’s current ordinance requires removal within 10 days following the election.
Commissioner Ron Stoltz said that he had received four telephone calls about the ordinance and that it needed to be reviewed and “made reasonable.”
When Riddell volunteered the Planning Department to begin the review process, Stoltz interjected and said, “I want this Commission driven.”
Chilcott said it was wise to have the planning department involved since it was the administering agency. He said there also needed to be a lot of opportunity for the public to be involved.
Commissioner Suzy Foss agreed with Chilcott but emphasized that people in the business community who would be the most impacted also needed to be involved.
The commission consensus was to start with the Planning Department who will work with the commission and legal staff to come up with a draft of an amended policy that could be offered to the public for review and input.