Pickerington Times-Sun

Pickerington considering ways to regulate 'sign-spinners'

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Rocking back and forth, twirling and spinning, sometimes dressed in elaborate costumes, sign-walkers are a relatively new phenomenon on the Pickerington commercial landscape.

They seek to capture the attention of motorists and their passengers to encourage them to purchase a product or service for things such as gold, pizza, tax preparation -- you name it.

Pickerington's Zoning Code Steering Committee, charged with conducting a comprehensive overhaul of the city's zoning code, is looking into ways to curtail or at least control what some city officials deem not only a distracting practice, but a safety issue.

Jennifer Readler, an attorney with Frost Brown Todd, the law firm hired by Pickerington to help guide the zoning code revision process, told the committee Aug. 21 that limiting sign walker's activity needs to be rooted in safety considerations for it to pass legal muster.

"There is a desire to get to some of this really distracting behavior," Readler said.

She said since sign walking or spinning is "inherently mobile" and the person is expressing something, curtailing the activity might trigger first amendment freedom of speech or expression "concerns" and otherwise be a slippery slope constitutionally.

"(We) would rather come at that as if there is some sort of interference with public safety or (that) it's causing a safety hazard, deal with it that way as opposed to saying 'you can't express,' " Readler said. "That would be very difficult to draft."

City Development Services Director Joe Henderson said the activity has picked up recently in Pickerington.

"In the last six months we've had a couple businesses who are doing this a lot," Henderson said.

He said the city had to advise one business that it couldn't put a sign in the ground and then have an individual waving at passing motorists, but rather they would "have to hold them."

"That is the best way to handle those," Henderson said.

Readler said if the sign-walker is in the right-of-way and there is a safety issue on a busy street, such activity can be restricted, however, typically the right-of-way or "public space is where that kind of demonstration is permitted."

She said instituting some sort of permitting procedure is difficult to enforce and monitor.

Readler did advise the city could restrict the activity on certain arterial streets "where there is a safety concern" as well as "look at the more egregious cases" of distracting sign-spinners.

Committee member Chris Schweizer said the fairly new form of marketing is essentially "performance advertising."

"There are people who make their business doing that type of thing, technically it's a performance," said Schweitzer, adding perhaps the city could enforce restrictions by "placing limitations on (the) performance."

Committee member Jeff Fix said he didn't think the Steering Committee should create an issue out of the activity if there weren't any strong concerns about it.

Readler stated past legal research she conducted on the matter could "provide parameters" to the Steering Committee upon which to decide how best to address the issue.

Schweitzer said it would be advisable to at least let a business know "they have to watch what they're doing, throwing something around with sharp corners."

Committee member Paula Evans said it's not only "the guys in gorilla suits" that are distracting to motorists.

She said protesters holding signs and "marching up and down the street" can be equally distracting.

"I think that's what (Readler) means by 'slippery slope,' " Fix said.

The Steering Committee agreed to revisit the issue at its Sept. 18 meeting before deciding whether to place any restrictions in the city's new zoning code.

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