Resident accuses Sunset Hills of ‘selective enforcement’ of yard signs

Sunset Hills aldermen direct city staff to replace signs protesting water tower

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This rendering from Missouri American Water shows what the new tower would look like from Crestwick Drive.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Debate surrounding Sunset Hill’s sign code, a proposed Missouri American Water tower and First Amendment rights came to head at a Board of Aldermen meeting earlier this month. 

At the Board of Aldermen meeting Sept. 14, resident Angie Weigel said city staff had unfairly targeted yard signs she had placed around the city protesting a Missouri American Water tower that might be constructed behind her home off Sappington Barracks Road.

According to Weigel, the city removed the signs protesting the tower from the city’s right of way, while still allowing other signs in the right of way to remain.

“I find this a clear violation of my … First Amendment rights. This is ‘selective enforcement’ which is impermissible,” Weigel said during public comment at the September meeting. “I have lived in Sunset Hills for almost 15 years and during this time I’ve seen many signs in the same exact locations as our signs.” 

City Administrator Brittany Gillett said she directed city staff to remove signs that were in “obvious” right-of-ways following complaints from residents, such as next to stop signs at intersections. 

The city’s sign ordinance requires signs to be 5 feet from the sidewalk or 12 feet from the right-of-way. 

“We discussed not moving those signs (not in the right-of-way) and picking up the signs that were in the obvious public right-of-way,” said Gillett. 

The typical right-of-way on a street that is 32-feet wide curb to curb is 50 feet total, extending 9 feet on either side of the curb, said City Engineer Bryson Baker. 

“That’s why when we say we’re putting signs out … put them about 12 feet back from the curb. That’s a good reference that it will be on your property and not on the right-of-way,” said Baker, adding that the city was not strict on enforcing the 12-foot rule, as long as signs were far enough back from the curb. 

“In areas like Lindbergh and Gravois, those commercial areas, unless it’s a business owner who put it out, it shouldn’t be there,” Baker said. 

Ward 3 Alderman Cathy Friedmann questioned why the city would enforce the right-of-way rule against the water tower signs when the city has typically been laxer in the past. 

“That’s the problem that I see here. You don’t really enforce that and yet there was a direction that these signs be picked up. Not any signs in the right-of-way. These signs, pick these signs up,” Friedmann said.

Weigel said she placed signs around the city with permission from property owners protesting the proposed 1.5-million-gallon Missouri American Water tank which would replace the current, smaller tower in its location at 11832 Sappington Barracks Road. Signs were removed from property that had permission to be there, Weigel said, not just from intersections or major right-of-ways. 

“Here’s the problem … There was overreach — inadvertently I’m sure … but there was overreach on residential property along major streets by removing those signs that weren’t at an intersection,” said Ward 3 Alderman Randy Epperson.  

After further discussion, the board directed city staff to replace the water tower signs that were removed. 

“I think these signs should be put back out. I think one sign in any particular area and until we come up with a specific rule about the signs, then these signs should stay out there,” Ward 4 Alderman Thompson Price said. “I wouldn’t worry too much about the right-of-way right now. … But I do think that this is a little bit unfair. …Either take every sign down that’s in the city or put these signs back up in an orderly fashion.” 

The water tower’s fate is still up in the air. In June, aldermen voted to deny an anticipated permit for the water tower for failing to meet setback requirements. The water tower’s plans are also currently under review by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.