Ferndale Adopts Policy for Displays on Public Property

GallowayCollensTOPsunsetREVISEDFerndale Adopts Policy formodern natural baby inprogress Displays on Public Property

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 15, 2015)


A Menorah display at the Kulick Community Center in Ferndale last year brought joy to many people who watched as each night a bulb came on representing candle flames. But it also presented the City with an interesting problem – how to properly regulate religious and other displays without infringing on people’s rights.

The City never adopted a policy in regard to the displays, and handled the request using the special event permit as a guide and resolving to come up with a formal policy by the time ChamberAd_01winter holidays rolled around this year.

And now that time has come.

Ferndale City Council approved the policy Monday night that specifically addresses Kulick Center. Citizens can put up temporary displays not lasting more than a month on the lawn of the property. In order to keep this manageable, the lawn has been divided into three sections, where the greenspace is naturally broken up by walkways.

By law the City cannot regulate free speech but they can adopt regulations to keep the displays neat and safe. The policy is content-neutral so as not to discriminate against any individual or group. According to City Attorney Dan Christ, the regulations “don’t address the message at all but would address issues of public safety and public aesthetics and would limit the seed017_darlene_bignottiduration to not more than 30 days.” There can be up to three displays at once, one in each area. And applicants cannot renew for contiguous months.

Per the policy “The maximum approved size of the sign or display shall not be more than 15 feet in height or over an area larger than 20 feet by 35 feet and shall not be located within five feet of any building or sidewalk” The policy also prohibits inflatable displaces and any installations that require excavation, trenchings, footings, stakes, guy-lines or guy-wires,

The City does have the flexiblity to revise the policy in the future, Christ said.

“There are several things that are important to me as I was working with Councilman Lennon and staff on this ordinance,” said Councilperson Greg Pawlica. “I wanted to make sure various signs areSCOTT WRIGHT AD basic tall permitted.” He also said that making sure there could be multiple displays without being overwhelming was important.

City Manager April Lynch has confirmed that as of Monday evening, only the people bringing the Menorah Display have signed up for a display permit.

“I appreciate Rabbi [Herschel] Finman bringing the Menorah issue to us,” said Mayor Dave Coulter. Coulter was among the speakers at the Menorah Lighting and celebration in 2014.

The issue of displays has not been problematic in Ferndale, which or years had a diverse multi-faith display. However over a decade ago the City made a decision to remove a City-sponsored mulit-faith display.

In 2003 Ferndale faced a potential legal battle over its holiday displays, which included a nativity scene, a Star of David, a Hanukkah Menorah, a Kwanza symbol, Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.  According to freerepublic.com, the display had been at City Hallchazzano game ad for more than a decade, then moved to the Kulick Center.  And in 2003, after a city in New Jersey lost a lawsuit over nearly identical decorations, the City decided to retire the display.

Madison Heights currently has a large nativity scene in front of their municipal complex.  Online research shows a mix of outcomes in instances where municipalities allowed religious displays on public property, however City Attorney Dan Christ is confident that the new policy is Ferndale will strike the right balance between free speech and the needs of the community.

lisa schmidt lawThe full policy can be read at http://ferndale-mi.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=542&meta_id=49379.

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For a glimpse at a Hanukkah parade in Oak Park, Royal Oak and Berkley see:



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