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Highway 17: Planners call for billboard moratorium

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Hoping to prevent a rush to erect digital billboards, members of the Georgetown County Planning Commission have recommended the county suspend issuing permits during discussions to ban them from the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay Zone.

Commission Member Elizabeth Krauss proposed using any legal means necessary to defer new permits until the billboard sign illumination issue is resolved.

County planning director Boyd Johnson said he was nervous about a proliferation of digital billboards. “When you start talking about this stuff,” he said, “sometimes it triggers a run.”

Bill Renault, a resident of The Tradition in Litchfield for 18 years, told commission members he has watched the Highway 17 corridor take on more of the commercial characteristics of Myrtle Beach, damaging the area’s appeal to new homeowners and property values for existing residents. Renault said his comments reflected his opinion and those of his neighbors that more digital billboards would be bad for the area’s image.

Johnson told commission members there are eight billboards along the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay Zone with the potential to be converted to electronic billboards with up to five sites that could qualify for new ones. The county staff counted 35 billboards in the corridor along Highway 17. All but eight are non-conforming based on the fact they were not on an individual lot, not zoned appropriately or did not meet the 1,000-foot separation requirement from other billboards. Some, Johnson said, are nonconforming in more than one area. The county’s off-premise sign ordinance says billboards cannot be further illuminated unless the entire structure is brought into conformity. Electronic billboards do not fall under a newly approved corridor sign ordinance that eliminates new electronic reader boards.

Brian Henry, commission chairman, said he favored getting the discussion started. “If people don’t care,” he said, “at least we explored it. We have a sign ordinance and architectural rules. Why are we having billboards that are lighting the sky and flashing?”

Johnson said Georgetown County Attorney Wesley Bryant is researching potential billboard limitations but the matter is complicated. “Unfortunately, there is no case law in South Carolina,” Johnson said. “You get into free speech, interstate commerce and a federal primary road is another thing. I do know that local government can regulate off-site signs for spacing, lighting — that’s a key word — and size. We do know that the door is open. We just don’t have a resolution.”

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