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Willmar's city officials say no campaign signs allowed in right of way

The city wants campaign signs seen in the right of way, like these along 19th Avenue in Willmar, to be placed behind the sidewalk. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Willmar officials will be enforcing city ordinance that prohibits the placement of campaign signs within the right of way of city streets. Beginning in about a week, city staff will remove campaign signs that they see are placed illegally in the right of way.

Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services, says the problem of illegally placed campaign signs surfaces every election year.

The signs could pose a safety hazard for bicyclists, and the signs could block the view of motorists.

Also, sign posts pounded into the ground could strike and disrupt utilities buried in the right of way and hurt the person pounding the post, says Megan Sauer, city planner.

"We certainly encourage the use of campaign signs as a means of getting the candidate's name and message out,'' Peterson said. "But it's important the message be delivered in such a way that it doesn't create a public safety problem.''

Generally in the residential areas, signs should be placed behind the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, signs should be placed 14½ to 15 feet behind the curb.

In areas without curbing or something other than a residential street where there is sidewalk, the sign should be placed behind the sidewalk. If there is no definable right of way, the sign should be placed on the back side of the ditch if there is a road ditch.

Peterson wants to alert people within a reasonable period of time about the ordinance requirements before offending signs are removed.

"If we continue to find them, city staff will pull the signs and collect them either here (at City Offices) or the Public Works Garage or the candidates can claim the signs with the assumption the signs will be properly placed the second time,'' said Peterson. "If people can do that, we'd be real happy.''

He said the setback requirement also applies to real estate signs.

"We're finding more and more of those in the right of way. Whereas we understand the difficulty in the housing market and the need to get their message out, there are still some public safety issues that need to be addressed and if these signs are in the right of way and if there would be an accident or any other problem related to those signs, I'm not sure exactly where the lines of liability lie,'' he said.

"But our ordinance is very clear that the only signs that can be in public right of way are governmental signs and we're bound to enforce that.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150