Apex: Sign regs violate First Amendment rights
Aspen’s attempt to regulate the placement of security signs in front yards violates people’s constitutional right to free speech, according to the CEO for Apex Security Group.
Apex representatives urged the Aspen City Council Monday to amend its code or face a class-action lawsuit over sign regulations that the company contends violate the First Amendment.
“The crime-deterrent message deserves the same amount of protection as a political sign,” argued Apex CEO Marc Powell. “We believe the sign code as it’s currently written violates our clients’ free-speech rights.”
The council agreed to take the issue up at a meeting next month. Powell urged the city to tweak the code or face a lawsuit from a growing list of clients who are willing to join the company in challenging the sign code in court.
Aspen adopted an ordinance in January 1999 regulating security signs after city officials and some citizens argued the signs constituted advertisements for security firms, and therefore violated the city code regulating commercial signs. Apex officials say the signs actually help promote security by warning that a home-security system is in place on a property.
Since adopting the ordinance, the city has been directing homeowners to replace their existing signs, most of which violate the new law, with an acceptable version. Compliance, though, has been minimal. Many homeowners are apparently resisting the changeover, though some complained early on that they couldn’t get a sign that complied from Apex.
“Our bottom line is we have very frustrated clients and you have very frustrated taxpayers. If they agreed with the code, they would have removed the signs already,” Powell told the council.
Apex spent $40,000 in 1998 to move its signs to meet the setback requirements in Aspen’s various neighborhoods, according to Powell. Then the city adopted a code requiring new signs altogether and placement on the house itself, except for historic buildings.
Typically, Apex signs are placed on a post, fence or mailbox – somewhere near the outer property line where they are prominent. The old blue and white signs measure nearly 12 by 12 inches. The code now requires signs of not more than 6 by 6 inches that are neutral in color.
Powell showed a slide to the council of a home where the larger sign was displayed prominently vs. a smaller sign on the house. The smaller sign was difficult to locate in the photograph.
The highly visible sign has a crime-deterrent effect that property owners fear is lost with a smaller sign in neutral colors, according to Powell. The company’s blue and white color scheme is easily recognizable, he added, and part of the message.
“The blue and white means something – this is not a mom-and-pop security firm protecting this property,” he said.
In addition, he argued, Apex provides something of a service to the city. Its security guards respond to alarms that would otherwise fall to the police department. Guards on patrol in the downtown core during the night are often the first to come across signs of trouble, he added.
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