Election signs banned in Lakewood Ranch residential neighborhoods
Article Courtesy of Bradenton Herald
By Nick Williams
Published June 26, 2012
LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Political signs are a protected form of speech under the U. S. Constitution.
But if you're a person living in an area governed by a homeowners association in Lakewood Ranch or a resident of any homeowners association in Manatee County that restricts signs on property other than for real estate, you won't be able to express your support during this election season.
Each homeowners association in Lakewood Ranch -- there are four -- has regulations regarding signs on homeowners' property. Any improper sign on a homeowners property will be referred to Lakewood Ranch's Community Association Services. Failure to comply may result in the assessment of fines by the HOA.
"HOAs are private organizations and are not government," said Frank Rathbun, vice president of communications for Community Association Institute, an international organization that provides information to community associations around the world. "Those who live in HOAs have a contractual agreement to abide. It's a private entity.
"During election years, Rathbun said his organization receives a surge in calls from homeowners and associations about political signs.
The issue has reached the judicial system on several occasions. In 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the right of association boards to enforce restrictions on signs. The court also said individual homeowners may challenge association rules.
"My personal feeling is, I'm OK as long as everyone abides by the rule," said Lucy Lapides, a Lakewood Ranch resident.
"In 2008, that wasn't the case. In 2008, there were signs up. It should be treated even-handedly. If people would like to make their feelings known, they can also put a bumper sticker on their car."
Lapides is the president of the Lakewood Ranch Democratic Club but has yet to survey her club on political sign restrictions.
Rathbun said political sign restrictions are related to the protection of property values.
"The proliferations of signs can affect the nature and character of community and potentially affect curb appeal, and curb appeal affects property value," he said. "Most restrictions look to aesthetics and property values."
Because Lakewood Ranch is not an incorporated city, the various community development districts must abide by Manatee County laws. In June of 2011, Manatee County commissioners adopted a sign ordinance stating that "signs on rights of way, utility poles, trees or any sign except government and legal non-conforming signs" located on county or public lands or rights of way will be immediately removed.
In Lakewood Ranch, any sign found in common areas, right of way or public property will be removed by the Lakewood Ranch maintenance staff. All signs removed by the staff will be held at the Inter-District Authority maintenance facility located at 6125 Lorraine Road in Lakewood Ranch for 14 calendar days, after which time it will be discarded.