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April 30, 2014

Residents: Mixed views on ordinance

TIFTON — Several local residents and a businessman voiced their opinions at a recent City Council workshop regarding proposed changes to signage in the Land Development Code and Historic Preservation design guidelines.

Bert Crowe, director of the environmental management department, discussed the changes, which included adding a definition section to define different types of signage. He noted they did not have a definition for Electronic Graphic Display (EGD) signs, so this change would allow a definition to be included, along with a couple of other definitions of types of signage that have come up over time. He said this was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Crowe also discussed A-frame signage (sandwich board type signs), which he says is a very usable type of sign. He said they have never had regulations on A-frame signs with the exception of the commercial downtown district.

"After reviewing it we, as staff, wanted to include A-frame signs citywide as a type of signage, because we wanted to keep everything as equal as possible and give people an opportunity to use that type of signage," he said, noting they're very portable and changeable. "It just seemed to fit our city quite well."

As Crowe continued with his discussion, he noted the Planning and Zoning Commission desires to meet with the council periodically to share information. He assured the council that no specific case will be discussed at these meetings. The commission just wants to get a direction on how citizens in their districts may be feeling about a specific topic. The council agreed that this is a good idea and it could be set up as a workshop.

Also, Crowe said the commission had requested for the council to consider all signage facing outward to the public, whether it's inside or outside a building, to be regulated by the LDC signage portion.

City attorney Rob Wilmot said there was a consensus from the council that they would not attempt to regulate signs on the inside of a building. Crowe said the commission is asking for the council to take a look at this matter again. He said their issue is with the interior signage (blinking, flashing, etc.) facing out toward the street.

Mayor Jamie Cater said they have already discussed what dimensions are allowed on the inside.

"I don't want to speak for anybody else, but I know I didn't have any appetite to go inside somebody's building and regulate anything," he said. "I'm not going inside somebody's business. This is America."

Crowe also informed the council that Cater formed a committee made up of Councilman Chris Parrott and Vice Mayor Johnny Terrell to look into the reclamation fee to recover impounded signs, which was originally set at $30, according to the LDC. They had a meeting about five months ago, and the decision was made to reduce the cost from $30 to $5 for a sign reclamation. Crowe noted they have to pull any sign that is located on the right of way, because it is a violation and they cannot leave it there due to safety reasons. He said the reclamation fee is for businesses to pick their sign back up.

In addition, he discussed changes to the Historic Preservation design guidelines. He said there were two changes that came from the Historic Preservation and Planning and Zoning commissions. The request was to look at where the signs would be used. Crowe said it was the determination of staff and both boards to allow banners to be limited to only commercial properties, according to the zoning characteristics. All stick signs and A-frame signs would be allowed in any district as long as they follow the guidelines of the LDC and HPC. He said this also allows them in the Historic District as types of signs throughout the district. He noted A-frame signs have been opened up to all of the city.

"That's a type of sign we want to promote," Crowe said, adding it's a sign used over some of the other types of signs that they've had.

As far as illumination, he said they added a definition for EGD signs in the definition portion of the HPC manual, as well as stick signs and A-frame signs. He said both commissions advised they would like to see some other types of lit signs defined, i.e., channel lighting (type of sign lit from the inside), neon and lit box type sign (standard light from the inside out). Crowe said a EGD sign is a lit type of sign and would be allowed on a case by case basis as defined in illumination.

Parrott asked what the trend is on projection signs. Crowe said they do from time to time get a request for these types of signs; usually it's from businesses in commercial downtown. He said they are allowed by the HPC guidelines and are regulated. They have to go through the review process like all of the others.

Councilman Wes Ehlers said he noticed there were no cons listed in the proposed changes. He said when the Department of Natural Resources reviewed their recommendations, they suggested against EGD signs. He said he thinks they would need to make that a con, because there are consequences that go along with it. Crowe assured he could make the change by adding it as a con.

"I just want to make everybody aware that not everything is pro in this ordinance," Ehlers said.

Citizens had the opportunity to speak on the matter after County Commissioner Buck Rigdon wanted to know if he could ask Crowe a question.

"Am I understanding that in residential only sections of the Historic District that stick signs and A-frame signs are allowed if this goes through as recommended?"

"That is correct," Crowe said.

Rigdon then asked, "Is this allowed in other residential sections of the city?"

Crowe said stick signs already are and A-frame signs will also be allowed if the LDC changes are approved.

"This will be available for all residential sections within the city limits of Tifton if this passes?," Rigdon asked.

"Yes. The numbers would be different. The allowances would be different," Crowe said.

Dr. Steve Rigdon then stood and asked, "You can ride down any residential street in this community and you could see literally advertising signs in every yard?"

"Yes," Crowe said.

"Is this what our community wants?," Rigdon asked Crowe, who responded, "You have to ask your community."

"Well, I've asked my community," Rigdon said. "I can go up and down the street. This is not what they want. You may have one out of 100 that wants it. I would guarantee you this is not what the overwhelming majority of people in this community want. It'll be confusing. It destroys the sense of your repose. We go to our homes for our quiet. This is not a commercial area. This throws zoning almost out of the roof. I don't understand this at all, and I can guarantee every person on this city commission that 90 percent of people living in a residential area, if they're seeing that kind of stuff, they're opposed to it in a huge way. That part is a huge mistake."

Cater also questioned this. Crowe noted that currently a person with a business can put up a sign, excluding the A-frame type sign, if it meets the criteria, which has been in place for years.

"Within our residential zones, we do have businesses (home occupations)," he said.

"The key is having a business license," explained City Clerk Rona Martin. "If you're running a business out of your home, you're entitled to a certain type, size sign. You're not entitled to have traffic going back and forth. You're not entitled to have any other thing that would take away from the nature of the community, but you are allowed to have a small sign."

Hal Baxley, owner of Endless Summer Day Spa, spoke in favor of the changes.

"Tifton is going to grow in spite of those that would have it to be stagnant and business unfriendly and keeping people out," he said, applauding the effort by the council members who are for the issue. "Because you will see that the sign issue will bring Tifton into the 21st century, and it will bring Tifton a lot more businesses that will locate downtown and in other areas around here if they're given the opportunity to put up a sign."

Baxley added although his business is in an enterprise zone, which would qualify him for grant money, he didn't buy his buildings to have somebody grant him money. He said whatever he needs to do to grow the business, he doesn't want any interference from the government in any way.

"The sign issue is a way that businesses can thrive in Tifton, and I applaud you for the action you've taken," he told the council.

To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.

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