Norris begins enforcing new sign law; removes Covenant Church sign

  • This sign for Covenant Life Church, previously posted along highway right-of-way on Andersonville Highway in Norris, was removed by the city of Norris last week (Sept. 12,2023).It was in violation of the city’s new sign ordinance, Norris officials said. - G Chambers Williams III

Norris officials have begun rigid enforcement of the city’s new sign ordinance, passed earlier this year, with one of the most-visible moves so far being the removal of the Covenant Life Church sign along Andersonville Highway.

Numerous other signs, including temporary banners, balloons and “waving arm” blow-ups, have been nixed, as well, especially along Andersonville Highway.

The city’s Public Works Department took the Covenant Life sign down on Tuesday, Sept. 12, after giving the church notice by certified mail that the sign was in violation of the ordinance and must be removed within seven days.

Covenant Life’s sign was in violation of the ordinance because it was on state highway right-of-way, rather than on church property, and the church did not have a permit for it, said Assistant City Manager Bailey Whited.

“Essentially, we’ve been taking down signs as we see them anywhere on right-of-way,” he said.

Although the new ordinance generally does not allow permanent signs on public right-of-way, businesses or other entities that already had such signs in place, and had earlier been granted city permits for them, are allowed to keep them for now.

“We’re still going through the verification process” for some of those, Whited said.

That was not the case with Covenant Life Church, which sits along Andersonville Highway at U.S. 441 (Norris Freeway). The church had never applied for a permit for the sign under the city’s previous sign ordinance, which the new measure has not replaced.

Covenant Life has 30 days to retrieve its sign from the Public Works Department before the city disposes of it, but had not done so as of late Monday, Whited said. It cannot be put back where it was.

City officials emphasized that Covenant Life was not singled out for enforcement of the sign ordinance; other signs, banners and such that were not in compliance with the law have also been removed, and more are on the list to be removed, Whited said.

“It is an ongoing process,” Whited said. “It’s obviously going to take some time to get all of them removed. I have been trying to reach out to two or three a week of those we know are out of compliance.”

Norris Mayor Chris Mitchell said before the final vote on the new sign ordinance in February that he would approve it only if city administrators could ensure than it would be enforced fairly and equitably against all violators. He reiterated that position during the Sept. 11 City Council meeting.

“We’ve been enforcing [the ordinance] throughout town,” City Manager Adam Ledford said Monday. “We started with the temporary signs, then moved to the permanent ones. We even made the Norris Dam State Park take down one of their signs. Most people aren’t used to us strictly enforcing the law.”

The state park sign was a temporary one advertising the coming “Pickin’ in the Park” event, Ledford said.

As for a permanent sign that is found to be on public right-of-way, “All they have to do is move their sign to their property and get a permit,” the city manager said.

Whited said temporary signs are allowed to be posted for special events held by nonprofit organizations, but they are limited to two weeks before the event, and must have a city permit.

There also is an exception for signs related to real estate sales, Whited said. “Not directional signs; just signs on the property that’s for sale.”

Ledford said the sign ordinance is for “aesthetic, and [protection of] property values, and because some signs can be a traffic hazard.”

“Our sign ordinance is 30 pages long,” he said. “Every zone has different rules. It is not a simple thing to deal with.”