Rules for signage at business-zoned properties in Nashville are getting closer to coming up for votes.

Nashville Chief Administrator Phyllis Carr said the Nashville Development Review Commission is set to review the definitions and rules for sandwich boards, marquee signs and temporary structures at a 5 p.m. work session Tuesday, June 21 with town attorney Andy Szakaly.

The earliest the town council could vote on them would be July, she said.

Temporary structures

Portable or temporary structures out of which business is conducted will be governed by DRC guidelines if the commission’s draft language is approved — and that includes their signs.

However, DRC members aren’t all comfortable with the effect the guidelines might have on food trucks’ signs.

Right now, DRC guidelines do not address temporary structures, such as tents, trailers, tables, carts, canopies, wagons, recreational vehicles, food trucks, vending machines not placed against any permanent structure, and prefabricated shelters or barns.

If the guidelines are approved, all those types of structures will be included — if they are up for more than 15 days — and businesses wanting to use them will first need to get approval from the DRC.

Draft language defines “temporary structure” as “any building or structure deemed to be exempt from the county permitting process, which is easily moved, without any foundation or footing or site preparation, which is intended to be used for a limited period of time and when removed results in no physical alteration of the site.”

Some temporary structure owners already have appeared before the DRC even though the guidelines aren’t in place yet.

Oliver’s BBQ owner Gary Oliver sought approval for his sign at the May 17 meeting.

The board told him it doesn’t have jurisdiction over his food truck but that after the temporary structure guidelines are approved, he may need to make sure his sign fits the allowable size limits.

The draft sets the limit at 1 square foot for each 15 square feet of interior space, with the minimum being 10 square feet of sign space.

If the structure has more than one sign — such as on Oliver’s trailer, on multiple sides — the space taken up by “Oliver’s BBQ” on all sides would be counted toward the maximum. Without having exact measurements, Oliver estimated his trailer might be over the sign limit.

DRC member Tess Kean said she’s not sure it’s appropriate for the DRC to dictate how big a food truck’s signs can be if they’re mobile and may be subject to different rules depending on what community they’re in.

The draft guidelines for temporary structures also “strongly encourage” that muted, earth-toned colors be used which would blend in with existing structures.

Marquee signs

Marquee signs advertise multiple tenants in one building or in one plaza.

The DRC’s draft language sets the maximum area of a marquee sign for a complex in the Village District containing multiple buildings at 50 square feet, including both sides.

The Village District spans business-zoned properties in most of downtown Nashville.

Outside the Village District — along highways where vehicles travel faster — the maximum size of this type of sign would be 150 square feet. No more than two such signs would be permitted per complex.

However, larger signs could be permitted at the DRC’s discretion, the draft says. The board mentioned one sign in town — Coachlight Square, at 90 square feet — that would be too big under the new language, but members said it doesn’t seem too large for the building.

For a single building with multiple tenant shops, the overall maximum marquee sign size would be 8 square feet.

Sandwich boards

Two town council members — Jane Gore and “Buzz” King — voiced differing opinions about the use of sandwich boards than board members did.

At the May 17 meeting, Gore and King said they aren’t fans of the way sandwich boards look, all different from each other and sometimes crowding the sidewalk. King said he doesn’t see the need for them if businesses have hanging signs, and he doesn’t want Nashville to look like Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.

DRC members — many of whom are merchants — said downtown businesses depend on these signs.

“Visitors tend to stick to the main streets because they just don’t know where they’re allowed to go,” Kean said. “That’s a way of letting them know that yes, you’re allowed to go here.”

She said the town possibly could cut down on merchants’ need for sandwich boards if it provided better public signage.

“I’ve had people come up and say they’ve lived here for years and years and didn’t know Possum Trot Square was there,” said Steve Kemp, owner of Gyros Food & Art Studios in the plaza just off Van Buren Street. “They say they never would have found me if not for that (sandwich board) sign.”

Town Manager/Economic Development Director Scott Rudd said plans are in the works to include a kiosk at the new Village Green Restrooms that would label those plazas or groups of shops that locals might know, but which aren’t often marked on public maps.

Approval from the town council is the next step toward making sandwich boards allowable by DRC guidelines — though many merchants are already using them.

The draft says: “A sandwich board is defined as a free-standing, self-supporting and portable sign, with two flat faces and no moving parts or lights. A business shall have no more than one sandwich board. Sandwich boards may be no larger than 42 inches tall or 24 inches wide, and must be placed in a location that does not impede pedestrian flow or create a safety hazard. Traditional materials such as wood or chalkboard should be used, or if modern materials are used, they should be finished in a way to give the appearance of traditional materials. The sandwich board may not include the name or logo of the business, or will be counted toward the total number and square footage of allowable signage. Signs of this type must be removed from the outside location at the close of the business day.”

Should 'feather banners' be allowed?

The Nashville Development Review Commission hasn’t come to a decision yet about the use of flags that advertise a sale or that a business is open. More discussion may occur at the June 21 meeting.

Discussion at the May 17 meeting was about the tall, fabric “feather banners” that arch and wave in the wind. Merchants have begun using them to advertise the types of wares they sell or simply to say “open.”

The board had concern about them being used not as temporary signs, but as permanent marketing materials. Several board members said they don’t seem to fit in downtown, but they understand that merchants need to show customers that they’re open.

They also talked about not allowing feather banners in the Village District, but they said they don’t want to push businesses out into the larger business district where the rules are less restrictive.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.