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Photo by city of Austin

West Campus sign variance remains on hold after illuminating discussion

Monday, July 12, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Once again, an accidental ban on illuminated signs has forced developers to seek a variance from an unintentional city statute. 

Current city code prohibits illuminated signs in the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO). While the prohibition was made in error, it has yet to be corrected. A May 2020 memo from Jerry Rusthoven with the city’s Housing and Planning Department states that the restriction on illuminated signs was “inadvertent.” 

A “mistake was made and the result is all illuminated signs were prohibited in the UNO area. This is not what was intended or agreed to by the stakeholders,” Rusthoven wrote. “Also, because the UNO sign regulations are also used in TODs and the North Burnet/Gateway Plan, this mistake carries over to other areas.”

Leah Bojo, the agent representing the applicant, explained that the developers of the West Campus student housing project called the Standard had waited “in the hopes that the code amendment would be processed.” But with its opening approaching, they needed assurance the signs would be legal and requested a variance to illuminate four signs on the West 23rd Street facade and two signs on the side of the building facing Pearl Street.

Despite their approval of six previous variances allowing illuminated signs in West Campus, Board of Adjustment members had some reservations. 

Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell said there had been a “lot of confusion” about the issue, but when the ordinance is corrected, it still will not allow illumination above the second floor.

Board Member Brooke Bailey, who appeared to agree, said that the higher signs on the Standard did not need to be lit up, and noted they did nothing to help navigation. 

“You can’t even see those from the street. They’re advertisement; they’re advertisement for the building,” said Bailey, who said she could support the lower signs, but nothing above the second story.

In light of that information, Bojo asked for a postponement. Board members voted to hear the case again at their August meeting.

“By then, there might be some clarification to the code,” Bailey said. “It could work to your advantage.”

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