New street light banners in Woodside development mean Westwood will need to navigate free speech challenges

Westwood_City_Hall_winter2015

The Woodside Village development in Westwood will bring 39 new street lights to the city that will have a distinctive design to fit with the aesthetics of the project. Those 39 street lights are also designed to host street banners.

But, allowing banners with private branding on them could place the city at some legal risk if it wants to prevent organizations and messages the city might find distasteful – the KKK was an example used in a city council discussion Thursday night. Without a city policy on who might be able to use the banners

It has become more challenging to enact content based restrictions on signs, the council was told. The city currently has 38 street lights that can accommodate banners: three on the north side of Shawnee Mission Parkway, 16 along the south side of 47th Street and 19 along Rainbow Blvd. Typically, the city has used them for seasonally-themed messages incorporating the City of Westwood branding.

The Thursday discussion was preliminary to drafting a policy that could allow some use of the banners by Woodside Village where it is bringing in the new street lights and design aesthetic. One ways to do that would be to set different rules for overlay districts – such as the Woodside area or the 47th and Mission area – that allow adjacent businesses to put up a sign. That potentially would avoid opening a forum for speech on the banners that would need to meet legal standards.

“I think we should be very careful with the aesthetics of the city,” Councilor Margaret Bowen said. Other members of the council agreed that a coordinated aesthetic is important.