South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

City passes regulations for Historic Route 66 signs

Signs must meet historical nature, have board approval

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen approved a bill at its May 9 meeting that adds a new section to the city’s sign code, permitting the installation of neon signs on properties along the original right of way of Historic Route 66.

The bill passed 5-2, with Ward 1 Aldermen Brian Fernandez and Ann McMunn, Ward 2 Aldermen Marie Davis and Casey Wong and Ward 4 Alderman Lindsay Hof in favor, while Ward 3 Aldermen Cathy Friedmann and Randy Epperson were opposed. Ward 4 Alderman Fred Daues was absent.

The new section permits the placement of Historic Route 66 signs in the city as long as they had previously been in use and operating on former U.S. Highway 66. Signs may be placed in the city on property in non-residential districts adjacent to the former Route 66 on Lindbergh Boulevard or Watson Road.

The petition was submitted by the Sunset Hills Historical Society, which wants to install an historic sign that was previously at the Chase Park Plaza hotel in St. Louis City at the Holiday Inn on Lindbergh Boulevard.

During the bill’s second reading at the May 9 meeting, Friedmann clarified that the bill does not guarantee that the Park Plaza sign, or any historic sign, will go up, rather the legislation outlines the regulations around installing a neon Route 66 sign in the city.

“I wanted to be clear that what this ordinance would do is permit the possibility of a sign, not the sign itself,” Friedmann said. “If this passed, then all of the signs would have to come before the board before being approved or denied.”

City Administrator Brittany Gillett confirmed that this was the case, while Davis, who previously served on the historical society, said that a sign could not go up until it is completely refurbished and has board approval.

Epperson questioned if passing the ordinance would leave the city open to challenges from other groups wanting to install any kind of neon pole sign, historical or not.

“I just don’t see how this ordinance guarantees that no other project that wants a neon sign on a pole can come forward and challenge this,” he said.

Phil Denton, counsel for the historical society and the husband of Mayor Pat Fribis, said signs must meet the historical nature and authenticity to be approved, adding that the signs were very rare. He noted that the newly-opened Bass Pro Shops had inquired about a historical Route 66 sign as well.

“I’m in the works trying to obtain a sign for them,” Denton said.

Epperson said the ordinance could lead to more neon signs being put up by businesses, leaving the city in a “precarious position that I personally am not going to support,” he said.

“I understand your interest and I respect the historical interest of the parties involved. I just … believe we leave ourselves exposed to something that none of us want in Sunset Hills, that’s an array of neon signs,” said Epperson.

City Attorney Erin Seele said the ordinance was written to focus more on what the sign is and its historical nature, rather than regulating the sign’s message, which could leave the city open to legal challenges.

“If it is looking at the message, then the city could be at risk for opening itself up to a First Amendment challenge by approving one message and not another,” Seele said. “This was really written to focus on the historical nature. … So the sign can say anything, it just has to meet the historical requirements of it, so it does meet the requirement of being content neutral.”

Wong questioned why the petitioner would not submit the request as a variance rather than a text amendment to the city’s code.

Gillett said it was because pole signs are prohibited in the city, so there was nothing to “vary.”

“You’re not asking to vary an outright non-permitted item,” Gillett said.

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