Petition to Overturn Sign Ordinance

DSC00602It has come to my attention that there is an online petition to overturn the Little Falls sign ordinance.

It’s not clear who is behind the petition, but it shows a couple of things. People are fed up with the current sign ordinance, particularly in light of the recent story about the City telling a home owner he had to take down his Christmas decorations because they violated the ordinance. It also shows that there are internet-savvy people in the community who will find ways to discuss issues in an arena beyond community-sanctioned meetings. If you want to know what’s really going on in town, the back channels are the most revealing.

How would you change the sign ordinance so that it meets the needs of Little Falls’ residents and the business community?

To see the Little Falls sign ordinance, visit and do a search for “signs”.

Because this is such a contentious local issue, please keep in mind the No Trolling rules I have in place for this blog.

5 thoughts on “Petition to Overturn Sign Ordinance

  1. It just seems the city could come up with a more friendly residential sign ordinance that allows people to advertise their little sales to happen and lets people put up Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Etc decorations. The ordinance has also hurt non-profits that like to put up signs for various fund raisers. To me it feels like we are a very unfriendly town!


  2. In a comment about the sign ordinance on Facebook, someone asked me about the history of the ordinance. Here was my long-ish reply.

    I don’t know the history of the sign ordinance way back to the beginning of when it was first instituted, but I can tell you that pretty much every community has one in order to control signs for safety, and to be perfectly honest, aesthetic reasons. The problem is that aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder and it’s notoriously difficult to get a committee to agree on what’s acceptable for a community. Some people prefer minimal signage, while others want to go hog wild. (Think Treasure City in Royalton with its riot of signs. But it works for that business.) If you look at old photos of Little Falls, you’ll see lots of signs, including a giant neon Kiewel beer sign on the roof of a building. Under the current ordinance, that sign would be illegal, even though it’s iconic.

    The current ordinance also doesn’t allow for any off-premises signs, except realty signs, which always seem to get an exception. I’m not sure why off-premises signs (any sign that isn’t on the premises of the person or organization that owns the sign, including garage sale signs) were such a difficult topic to discuss when the ordinance was being rewritten to take into account the free speech issues raised in the sign kerfuffle. I was part of those meetings as a member of the Heritage Preservation Commission. Prior to the rewrite, the HPC had jurisdiction over all signs in the historic district. With the new ordinance, the HPC has no say over any signs.

    Part of the problem with off-premises signs is that they are often placed in road right-of-way (along Highway 27 & such). For safety reasons and because road right-of-way along highways is the jurisdiction of the state, off-premises signs are not allowed there. The City has to abide by state law in this case. But what about city roads? If a person has permission to put a garage sale or other temporary sign in someone else’s yard and the sign meets the city’s size requirements, why not allow for off-premises signs on city roads? This was wrangled over during most of the time we spent rehashing the sign ordinance and no good conclusion was arrived at, so they were banned altogether.

    Addendum: When it comes to signs in people’s yards, the new ordinance is about size and number of signs because those are really the only factors that can objectively be judged. The city can’t regulate the content of signs without violating the right to free speech. While the sign ordinance already feels unwieldy, it would be even more so if the city granted exceptions for certain times of the year (like for Christmas decoration signs). Perhaps the City Council could increase the area of signage for residential properties somewhat to allow for this. Currently, no permits are required for residential, non-commercial signs, so maybe there could be a reasonable (and I mean reasonable – like $5-$10 for a particular month or season) permitting fee for those who want to go all out and decorate their yards for holidays.


  3. Mary…..what is interesting is that Little Falls and Royalton have the same attorney, but Royalton sign ordinance allows off premise limited signs. And there was a huge sign violation there recently with the huge billboard digital electronic sign erected illegally in a residential zone. Mr. Schraut had to hire a private attorney to get it removed. Why didn’t the city attorney and council do their required job there to protect that homeowners property rights? The city of Royalton has countless sign violations that never get dealt with properly. The council is designated in their ordinance to enforce it. Some folks may not know that there is no official policy for enforcement in Little Falls. There should be. The reason Little Falls does not want off premise signs is because B3 business districts can have billboards and city officials on council and planning don’t want the homesowners across from the middle school that are zoned business to be able to put up billboards. The biggest continuing problem for Little Falls is the ongoing unfair and non-consistent enforcement. If Little Falls ever intends to be fair, it will require a full time zoning administrator, and an enforcement officer. The current part time zoning official continuously uses the excuse he doesn’t have time to look into all the sign violation complaints of non compliance. This is the same story used by Jerry Lochner and Doug Stewart when they were tasked with the job. What that means is the city of Little Falls has no intention of ever operating uniformly with sign enforcement. Not wise at all.
    There are countless sign violations in Little Falls, and people like myself and other private property owners will continue to be unfairly targeted because of bias. Planning meetings should be packed, but are not. The petition is lacking enough signatures to be effective. 550 or so I believe would do it, but every signature has to be from a legitimate verified resident of the city of Little Falls.


  4. One other point….Royalton allows holiday signs. Now if that holiday exception is unconstitutional, as Ben Oleson Little Falls zoning administrator for Little Falls stated in the Randall Bjerkness article, then Royaltons sign ordinance, is unconstitutional. So is the Pierz sign ordinance. Willmar, Bloomington and alot of other cities allow off premise limited garage sale, church supper, and boutique signs. Little Falls chose the most restrictive for the one reason. To limit certain messages that were unpopular that one homeowner had. It is no secret, I was unfairly targeted because if the content of my signs. As time allows I will be posting all the history of the sign ordinances and old meetings way back to the first sign ordinance on my blog so people will understand.


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