Roeland Park continues to struggle with solution to code compliance issue with St. Agnes abortion awareness display

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By Holly Cook

The Roeland Park city council continued its discussion this week on whether to adjust a signage code for non-profit events to accommodate an annual display recognizing abortion awareness month.

Current code allows non-profit churches, schools and government organizations to advertise for special events by posting three signs for up to four days. Member of the council and staff noted that St. Agnes Catholic Church of Roeland Park’s month-long abortion awareness display, which includes roughly 40 crosses, violates this code.

According to assistant city administrator Jennifer Jones-Lacy, previous city attorney Neil Shortlidge said the crosses should be interpreted as signs. Before consulting with Shortlidge city staff had interpreted the display as lawn art that was not in violation of code.

An early December suggestion by city staff to amend the code to allow for an unlimited number of signs was deemed too relaxed by councilmembers. Councilmembers were also uncertain of the changes proposed at Tuesday’s meeting.

The latest ordinance update would limit the location of signs and symbols to a land area of 500 square feet. A collection of single-sided signs could not exceed 100 square feet and double-sided signs could not exceed 200 square feet.

A single sign could not be more than eight feet long and four feet high.

Jones-Lacy reminded the council that non-profits can come before the council and request an exception for an event.

“If you do that there is no need to make any changes to this particular portion of the city code,” she said.

Councilor Michael Poppa said he would like the city’s new attorney Steve Mauer to weigh in on whether he agreed the crosses should be viewed as signs. Mauer replaced Shortlidge as city attorney January 1.

Poppa said he wasn’t certain the abortion awareness crosses should be viewed as advertising for a special event.

“I’m not sold on that personally,” Poppa said.

Councilor Erin Thompson cautioned the council against changing city code to accommodate St. Agnes Church.

“I wouldn’t go out of my way changing ordinances to accommodate one event,” Thompson said. “I would leave it the way it is.”

Thompson said she didn’t see why the church couldn’t come before the council and request an exception on an annual basis.

City administrator Keith Moody said he did not think Roeland Park would be changing code for just one entity as many churches in the area recognize abortion awareness month.

Mayor Joel Marquardt said St. Agnes’ large campus put them at a disadvantage and questioned whether allowed signage should be based on the size of the non-profit’s property.

“That property is so big with so much lineal feet there ought to be a way to grant them… what I would consider an appropriate amount of free expression that they don’t have now,” he said.

Marquardt said he would also support maintaining the code and having St. Agnes apply for an exception.

“I do think that property deserves to have more free expression than they have,” Marquardt said.

Councilmembers agreed to move the discussion to a governing body workshop for further discussion.