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Planning: Litchfield sign grows as debate continues

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A new sign proposed for the Litchfield Market Village complex gained another 27 inches during debate by the Georgetown County Planning Commission last week, and it could pick up another 11 inches if County Council supports a recommendation from planning staff that the sign have larger letters.

The height of the proposed sign and the conflicting interests of area residents and businesses are likely to shape the discussions as the county revises its rules for signs, commission members said.

“Twenty-one feet, nine inches,” said commission member Glenda Shoulette, whose motion to deny the Litchfield Market Village sign failed last week. “That’s what’s before us.”

The planning staff had it listed as 19 feet, 6 inches, but Shoulette pointed out that didn’t include the logo for the Piggly Wiggly, the center’s main tenant.

And both calculations included panels with 9-inch-high letters listing 22 other potential businesses. The staff recommended those letters be 10 to 15 inches high so they can be seen from the road.

The commission voted 5-2 to recommend County Council approve the proposal. But they recommended against a request to have the tenant panels lit from inside.

The commission agreed to defer action on the sign last month, saying they didn’t like the electronic message board or the wood construction included in the initial proposal.

“We were here a month ago with a much inferior sign,” said Jim Christopher, a partner in the center.

The new proposal is for a brick and stucco sign that follows a 22-foot-high design first approved in 1999 after the center was zoned as a “planned development,” but never built.

Unlike that version, the new sign will be V-shaped with faces on Highway 17 and Willbrook Boulevard.

David Burke, an architect with the Charleston firm LS3P, said they got rid of the word “village” to make sure there was room to list all the tenants.

Shoulette was pleased with the change of materials, but told Christopher he overlooked her main concern. “I spoke with you about height, height, height,” she said.

Area residents said they shared that concern.

“It’s too much,” said Bill Renault, speaking for the Tradition homeowners association and the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations.

Christopher told the commission in July that although the market village is held up as a model of commercial design tenants are leaving for centers with more visibility.

“The problem isn’t so much the signage, but the mix of tenants,” Renault said, citing “a plethora of women’s dress shops.”

Rhea Carter, a North Litchfield resident, said shop owners told her the issue was rent and lack of promotion by the owners of the complex.

The shopping center is “our downtown Litchfield,” Carter said. “We don’t need more visual clutter.”

The new sign was also opposed by the Litchfield by the Sea Property Owners Association and a dozen other Litchfield area residents.

The Willbrook Road Maintenance District, which enforces deed restrictions along Willbrook Boulevard, approved the sign, said Mickey McDowell, who chairs the district board.

“The sign meets our code. Apparently it meets your code,” he told the commission.

He said he didn’t understand why the commission wanted to enforce restrictions on sign height that haven’t been approved.

Boyd Johnson, the county planning director, proposed a 15-foot limit in a revision of the sign regulations. The current limit is 25 feet, although that can vary in a “planned development.”

Joanne Ochal, the county zoning administrator, said the nearby sign at the entrance to Willbrook Plantation is 24 feet high. There is a 29-foot sign at Pawleys Island Plaza and a 32-foot sign at the Village Shops, she said.

But Shoulette said she and commission member Brian Henry also looked at signs and found plenty at 15 feet that she said provided plenty of visibility.

The proposed Litchfield Market sign “is not in scale with the rest of this PD,” she said. “It’s just too huge on that corner.”

And she said trees on the corner would have to be cut to maker room for the taller sign.

Commission chairman Jeff Kinard said along with a 15-foot height limit, they have also discussed a sliding scale based on lot size and use. “These standards are not established,” he said.

The Litchfield Village sign “is not out of scale with the property it’s providing signage for,” he said.

If a development preserves trees, it’s going to need a larger sign, he added.

“A sliding scale, to me, is what we need to do,” commission member Larry Fox said.

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