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Pawleys Island: Town considers ban on political signs

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

In an effort to reduce visual clutter on Pawleys Island, the town has proposed banning signs from the beachfront, limiting signs put up by real estate brokers and contractors, and prohibiting political signs.

The measures were adopted by the town Planning Commission last week and are due for a vote by Town Council in February.

“The whole issue of signs was on the verge of being a very hot button,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

The town has reduced the number of highway signs and heard complaints last year about For Sale signs showing up on the beach side of properties that are on the market.

Under a change in the town development ordinance, only town signs and house number signs under 2 square feet will be allowed east of the “shore protection line.” The line is based on state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management data and marks the limit of construction on the beachfront.

One real estate sale sign and one rental sign are allowed for each lot. Those signs won’t be allowed on creek docks. No balloons, flags, streamers or similar devices can be attached to the signs.

Signs put up by contractors must be taken down “immediately” once the work is finished, under the proposal.

“People have gotten more aggressive on the island with signage,” said Howard Ward, who chairs the commission. “This takes care of the problem.”

The largest signs can’t be larger than 6 square feet, with the exception of the sign at the south end parking lot. It is about 70 square feet, but it was put up to consolidate information about parking and beach rules that was previously listed on several smaller signs.

“It’s the largest sign on the island,” Ward said.

The commission didn’t set out to restrict political signs, but at a meeting last week Bill Doar suggested creating a window before and after an election when they would be allowed.

“It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if we didn’t allow them,” commission member Buddy Keller said.

Doar, who is an attorney, said he wasn’t sure the town could do that.

“Don’t allow them and see what happens,” commission member Bill Tuttle said.

“I think it’s a good idea, at least to tighten them up,” Ward said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that bans on political signs on private property are unconstitutional. In a 1994 decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, that overturning a ban by a Missouri city “by no means leaves the city powerless to address the ills that may be associated with residential signs. It bears mentioning that individual residents themselves have strong incentives to keep their own property values up and to prevent ‘visual clutter’ in their own yards and neighborhoods – incentives markedly different from those of persons who erect signs on others’ land, in others’ neighborhoods, or on public property.”

“I don’t think they can just blanket say ‘no campaign signs,’ especially if they allow temporary signs,” said Bill Taylor, field services manager for the S.C. Municipal Association.

He said most cities set a limit on time and size for campaign signs.

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