The Helotes City Council addressed some unfinished business during the April 13 City Council meeting. New Leaf Homes had requested a variance for the entry sign to Brycewood subdivision at the last meeting in March.
City Council annexed the Brycewood subdivision into the city limits of Helotes many months ago.
At the time, three council members expressed their intention to vote against the variance, when the Mayor and Bert Buys offered to postpone action until the next Council meeting because New Leaf Homes did not get to show the power point presentation of all the signs in and around Helotes that violates the sign ordinance.
So with power point in hand, Fred Ghavidel, proceeded to inform Council the 18 foot tall sign (ordinance allows for 8 feet) was needed to call attention to the entrance of the subdivision. He also said to compete with the other developments in the area it was important to have a tall sign.
Ghavidel also identified areas where larger signs were in use and not in compliance with the Helotes ordinances.
Councilman Alex Blue informed Ghavidel most of the examples he used were either in Bexar County or inside the City of San Antonio.
Buys remarked, “I have seen the sign, I doesn’t look like its 22 foot when you consider the elevation in the area. I think it’s a great looking sign.”
Massey added, “I think it’s a tower. The sign doesn’t appear to be a part of the sign. We have nothing in our ordinances that regulate a tower.”
City Attorney, Frank Garza, (from the same law office that provided the disastrous advice to enforce the building permits inside the ETJ) informed Council that indeed if the sign was not attached to the tower, or if the tower was not on the same base as the sign, then in fact it would be a free-standing monument and the ordinance does not regulate monument.”
However, if you examine the sign, you will see the tower is connected to the same base as the sign. Just like a sculpture that is composed of different pieces connected to the same base its declared one sculpture.
If Massey’s and the attorney’s interpretation was true about it being a free-standing structure, it would reside on its own separate base, or it would have dirt between the base of the sign and the base of the tower.
When you examine the pictures, you can see there is no separation between the base of the two structures nor is there any dirt between the structures. Upon further examination, you can see the design, artwork, and lighting is a continuation of the two smaller columns of the monument sign and the tower. It is one complete structure—one complete sign—one complete sculpture.
Blue, Friedrichs, and Villanueva changed their vote from against to for because of the attorney’s advice.
Absent from the discussion was any comments from the Mayor. Per his website (votecommonsensehelotes.com) he is the top law enforcement official in the City. This is the reason he gave for launching the City of Helotes into the lawsuit costing the City over a million dollars. “We had an ordinance on the books, and I had to enforce the ordinance.” He offers no such interpretations or advice because there are many ordinances on the books regarding signs inside Helotes when discussing this variance request.
The sign ordinances seem to be the most selectively enforced ordinance inside the City of Helotes. It is important to note Code Compliance informed the developers at Brycewood they could not construct this sign. Code Enforcement notified the builder they did not have a permit to construct the sign therefore legally the sign could not be built.
The Code Enforcement officer did not issue them a written waring. The Code Enforcement officer did not issue them a citation; therefore, construction continued unstopped.
However, Byron Faust, owner of Elf Hardware, was issued a written warning because he had three banner signs on his property. He was also told that if they did not come down within a week, Code Enforcement would return and issue him a written ticket.
Elf Hardware complied with the request. Although according to Faust, “I have been here for 47 years. I have had the same banners in place for almost 47 years. I do not understand why it has become an issue. I believe in our city, and I will do as they have requested.”
Since receiving a written warning, Code Enforcement informed Faust they would be requesting a variance for Elf Hardware to allow for him to place the banners on his property. The variance was supposed to be on the April 27 Council meeting. However, in reviewing the agenda for the meeting no variance request can be found.
When reading the sign ordinance Chapter 66-44 regarding banners, the wording states: Banners. Banners shall be regulated as follows:
- To advertise a special event, other than a recurring event, which occurs on a regular basis.
The rest of the chapter describes size, height, number, location, design, lighting, landscaping, duration, special provisions, and permit. The ordinance does not discuss those banners that have a business name on them, or listing a product for a company.
So attorneys have become involved to determine the exact scope of the ordinance.
In a public information request submitted to the City of Helotes, 67 businesses were contacted about violations of the sign ordinance. This included Brycewood subdivision. However, Code Enforcement officers elected to “talk to” all the businesses except Elf Hardware.
The information request required the City of Helotes to provide a copy of all citations or warnings issued for violations of the sign ordinance. In the records turned over by Code Enforcement, Elf Hardware was the only business to receive a written warning.
So lesson learned, if you provide the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue to the City, or if you are told you cannot build your sign, keep building, Council and the City Attorney will declare it a monument—a monument it is and City ordinances do not apply to monuments.