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Billboards: Digital sign review causes ‘upset’

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

There are some individuals who want billboards left alone. “The powers that be are upset with the Planning Commission’s billboard discussions,” county planning director Boyd Johnson told the commission last week.

Commission chairman Brian Henry challenged the billboard supporters to “come forward and tell us why. Let’s have the discussion.”

Though a full discussion of digital billboards was delayed until January, Planning Commission members had it on their agenda last week and had correspondence from Brian Harvin of Peak Outdoor Media in their packets.

Johnson said afterward regulating billboards gets “a little tricky.” He said the county has allowed billboards to change messages mechanically without a complaint. The digital billboard at the Downtown Pawleys commercial development on Highway 17 has been a different story.

“We are talking about a means there,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing I hear about is the brightness although some people on the Planning Commission appear not to like them because they are on the Waccamaw Neck.”

The digital billboard is on a lot owned by Pobuckra Properties, which also owns Downtown Pawleys and the Island Shops. The lot was created from a larger parcel in order to comply with the county rule the there can only be one principal

use on a lot.

Johnson said the county has fairly strong billboard regulations. They are protected by federal law, but the county requires billboards to be at least 1,000 feet apart and 750 feet from a church.

Harvin said current county regulations would not allow a proliferation of digital billboards like the one at Pawleys Island. There are a number of billboards along the highway that do not conform to regulations but were grandfathered. “We believe if this ordinance wasn’t already currently in place that other digitals would have already been in place in the community,” Harvin wrote to county zoning administrator.

Johnson said he would have to do some research before he could agree that non-conforming billboards could not be converted to digital.

A state law enacted in 2006 requires local government to compensate owners for removing a non-conforming sign unless they enter into a relocation agreement or if the sign is deemed a public nuisance.

That law was passed after the county was sued by Next Media when it required a billboard at Woodside Village in Murrells Inlet to be removed as a condition to building the shopping center. The suit was eventually settled.

While some residents have been publicly opposed to digital billboards in the Waccamaw Neck commercial corridor, others are surprisingly without an opinion. Johnson said he had asked a resident of Rose Run, a development near the new digital billboard, about it and she said that she hadn’t noticed it.

In other business, commission members recommended approval of a rezoning request made by Dan Stacy, attorney for the owners of Pawleys Station. They want to rezone one lot from “neighborhood commercial” to “general commercial.”

The shopping center is comprised of two parcels and the one at the corner of Alston Road is already zoned “general commercial.”

Stacy said the owners were not planning a new business on the property, just some cosmetic improvements. The existing development is home to a mix of commercial uses including a church, a take-out food store, a flower shop, a barber, a development office and a coffee shop. All these uses are allowed in both neighborhood and general commercial. The parcel proposed for the zoning change already meets the general commercial 90-foot setback requirement from Highway 17.

Planning Commission chairman Brian Henry recused himself from the rezoning vote because he operates a business, Get Carried Away, in the development.

A request from David Gantt of G3 Engineers, agent for Beverly Homes, requesting preliminary plat approval for a 15-lot subdivision in Hagley was deferred until January to resolve some boundary line issues.

The 5.6-acre tract is on the south side of Tyson Drive and is currently zoned “residential 10,000 square feet.” The proposed lots will have a 70-foot road frontage and be required to meet the Hagley setbacks.

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