Columbia updates sign code

Out with the old, in with the new is a recurring theme in recent Columbia City Council meetings as the city continues a year-long comprehensive planning process and gears up for budget consideration for the next fiscal year.

Action at Monday’s meeting replaced the existing sign code for Columbia businesses and residents with a version that removes inconsistencies and unclear language. 

“The current sign code has become difficult to administer,” Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey wrote in a staff report, adding “amendments enacted over the years have left the code disorganized” and the changes “have failed to keep up with modern advertising trends, such as the proliferation of signs with full color video displays.”

After issues arose recently for several sign permit applications which also contained variance requests, the city council voted in February to put a moratorium on approval of new signs until a new sign code was adopted.

In an effort to make the code more accessible to users, Dunakey added a table, which includes specific signs and their zoning, “qualifying conditions,” provisions and applicable regulations.

Dunakey said the suggestion to add the table was a “great call” and makes the new code easier to follow.

The code also contains visual elements to aid those  considering adding a sign to a property.    

Dunakey also believes the new code will prevent possible litigation against the city. He cited a 2015 case in which the Supreme Court found sign ordinances may not have regulations based on sign content. 

Dunakey said he felt much more comfortable with the new code, which has removed language naming real estate signs and other content-specific signage.

During discussion, Dunakey said he could not think of any instances in which flags were an issue in Columbia but he believed it would be prudent to have language to regulate height. 

“I felt we needed some level of control that kept something from getting out of hand,” Dunakey explained, adding the language “keeps (flag poles) from being used to disguise cell towers when you have some sort of limit on size.”  

Dunakey also clarified the new code will not allow a sign type unless it is explicitly listed. 

After discussion, a few minor amendments were added and the new sign code was adopted by unanimous vote.   

Dunakey said the sign code would be revisited during the comprehensive planning process and revised as necessary.

Another city code section change involved repealing a questionable ordinance pertaining to cell phone towers. 

The move was made in response to current consideration by Monroe County of a telecommunications tower near Columbia city limits. 

Dunakey explained amendments to the ordinance were passed in 2005 shortly after Monroe County approved a cell tower near city limits. The ordinance established telecommunications tower regulations as part of the city’s subdivision code in an attempt to extend regulations into a “1.5-mile planning jurisdiction.” 

Dunakey said he and Columbia City Attorney Terry Bruckert reviewed the language and found multiple problems.

First of all, ordinance  amendments were passed then without proper public notice, public hearings or Columbia Plan Commission recommendation.

Furthermore, as part of the subdivision code, the ordinance violated Illinois zoning regulations prohibiting municipalities from “exercising control of telecommunications facilities outside of corporate limits.”  

Finally, with language existing within the subdivision code, Dunakey argued the amendments, besides being illegal, would rarely apply to divided land parcels and would only be triggered if a tower were proposed within a subdivision.

The city council voted to repeal the 2005 ordinance, thus reverting telecommunications tower language to the city zoning code, which Dunakey believes is the proper placement.

In other action, the council approved a contract with Baxmeyer Construction for work on the Quarry Road Roundabout and Resurfacing Project – Phase 2 in the amount of $1,436,407.07. 

The bid will be sent to the Illinois Department of Transportation for processing and approval. Construction is scheduled to begin later this spring.     

The meeting began with a sobering report from Columbia Administrator Doug Brimm. He met recently with various city department directors in preparation for a budget presentation scheduled for the April 4 council meeting.

“I can tell you all now that it’s not going to be a pretty situation,” Brimm warned. “With the inflation numbers that are calculated as well as the cost of materials going through the roof, there are going to be some areas where there’s some decisions that are going to be needed as to whether we proceed with some projects, we put them on hold for a particular year, or we scrap them altogether,” he concluded.

After a budget presentation at the next meeting, the final budget will be scheduled for approval April 18.

The first in-person comprehensive project event will be March 31 during an open house to discuss the city’s future and gather input from the community.  

The event, which the public is invited to attend, will be from 4:30-7 p.m. at Main Street Abbey, 340 S. Main Street. Visit for more information or to complete a “community vision survey.”

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Scott Woodsmall

HTC web