By Holly Cook
Roeland Park City councilors Monday discussed reducing restrictions on signs used by non-profit religious, educational or community service organizations to advertise an event. City staff proposed amending a special events code to accommodate the collection of crosses and signs St. Agnes Catholic Church displays each October in recognition of abortion awareness month.
The amended code would allow an unlimited number of signs to be posted for a period of 31 days, up to four non-consecutive times per year. Signs could be no larger than eight feet long and four feet high.
The existing code allows organizations to post only three signs for up to four days.
The church’s month-long display incorporates roughly 30 to 40 crosses, which the city interprets as signs.
“This is in an effort to try and make sure they can express their religious freedoms and that they are not in violation of our codes,” said assistant city administrator Jennifer Jones-Lacy.
Mayor Joel Marquardt voiced concerns with the leniency of the proposed change, noting that Roeland Park churches and schools largely exist within residential areas.
“If someone wanted to take it to the furthest degree it could be very unfortunate if you live next to that,” Marquardt said.
Councilor Teresa Kelly was also not supportive of the proposed changes.
“I don’t know that I agree with giving that much latitude,” Kelly said.
Councilor Michael Poppa asked if the council could maintain the ordinance as it is currently written and interpret the church’s annual display as an art installation. Jones-Lacy responded that the city attorney had determined the church’s crosses should be defined as signs. Poppa also raised the question of whether the city could grandfather in the church event.
Jones-Lacy suggested that if the council did not want to change the code the church could stay in compliance with regulations by requesting special permission for the display each year.
Marquardt said he thought all parts of the amendment needed further evaluation.
“To me there has got to be a better way,” he said. “And a reasonable way to work with the organizations to get them the freedom of expression they are looking for without being unlimited for four months out of the year.”
Councilors referred the amendment to a workshop for further discussion.