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Signs: Time will stand still under proposed rules

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A change in the zoning regulations will mean new signs along Highway 17 on Waccamaw won’t be able to display time or temperature unless that information is posted by hand. No more electronic message boards will be allowed in the commercial corridor under a proposal adopted by the Georgetown County Planning Commission last week.

So far the changes to the sign rules have met no opposition and received little comment. That is expected to change when they go to County Council for approval.

“It’s not slam-dunk with County Council,” commission chairman Brian Henry said. He has championed the changes as part of the design standards that apply to commercial buildings in the Highway 17 corridor along Waccamaw Neck. “I would encourage you to have dialog with your respective council members,” he told his commission colleagues after they voted 6-0 to adopt the new rules.

Along with eliminating electronic signs, if approved by council:

• new signs must be “monument style” rather than mounted on a pole. They can be up to 25 feet high for developments with four or more businesses and up to 15 feet high for smaller projects;

• if lit from inside, only letters and logos can be illuminated;

• the design of new signs must be “compatible” with the commercial building’s design, that includes colors for signs that feature more than one business.

Existing signs aren’t affected. They can remain until damaged beyond 50 percent of their value. Planning staff proposed consulting with sign companies to determine values, but commission member Lee Shoulette questioned that idea. “I was very leary of that broad statement,” he said.

Boyd Johnson, the county planning director, said staff uses values from the county assessor’s office to determine the extent of damage to buildings, but that information isn’t available for signs. He suggested substituting an appraiser or insurance adjuster, approved by the county, for sign company valuations. The commission agreed.

Commission member Elizabeth Krauss asked if a change in business ownership would trigger compliance with the new rules.

That isn’t how the rules were written, said Holly Richardson, the senior planner. “It would be a tougher approach,” she said.

The only comment from the public at last week’s commission hearing came from Tom Stickler, a Hagley resident who follows planning issues. “In Myrtle Beach, they managed to buy up a lot of signs” that didn’t conform to changes in the city ordinance, he said. “It might be possible to say, ‘Let us buy you out.’ ”

“First things first,” Henry said, noting County Council needs to adopt the changes. “This is a common sense approach. It’s not overreaching.”

Another change to the rules for the Highway 17 corridor adopted by the commission closes a loophole that allowed the Publix grocery store under construction at Pawleys Island to get a variance for its roof design. The design standards require commercial structures to have a pitched roof over half their area. The developer of Pawleys Island Plaza got a variance from the Architectural Review Board last year to allow a larger portion of flat roof on the Publix by arguing that all the buildings in the complex still met the 50 percent rule.

County Council disbanded the review board following the vote.

The Planning Commission last week approved new language in the zoning ordinance that makes it clear that flat roofs must be less than 50 percent of any building within a commercial development in the Highway 17 corridor.

“This is a statement of how we’ve always done it,” Johnson said. “This is actually current practice.”

The change was approved unanimously without comment.

After the Architectural Review Board was abolished, appeals of the commercial design standards are heard by the county Board of Zoning Appeals, which issued a variance this month to allow Frank’s restaurant at Pawleys Island to use red paint on red brick. Unpainted brick is allowed in the design code, but brick red paint is not an approved color.

“I found it curious that they granted the variance,” Shoulette said. He was a member of the review board when it was first created.

The appeals board also suggested the Planning Commission look at the issue, Johnson said. “We don’t regulate what color brick can be used,” he said. “It sounds like an inconsistency, but it’s the first time it came up.”

“I don’t think it’s brick red,” Krauss said of the restaurant, which was painted before the variance was issued.

Terra cotta is how the color was listed, Richardson said.

Johnson said he is working on a proposal on painted brick surfaces for the commission.

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