Motion to allow state to manage signs voted down.
The Macon County Planning Board met for its monthly meeting last Thursday. The group gathered to discuss the county's sign ordinance that has been in place since the mid 1990s but that has been sparsely enforced over the years.
According to the county's current ordinance all signs constructed, placed, relocated or maintained require a permit with some exceptions. Government signs, signs/graphics on soft drink machines and gasoline pumps, flags or insignias of any governmental or non-profit organization that is not being used for advertisement, and warning signs are just some of the exemptions that are made in the ordinance.
Signs that are completely prohibited are those that obstruct the view of motorists entering or exiting roadways, signs that use flashing lights or use moving parts; signs with changing displays, portable signs, signs that resemble public saftety warnings, signs that stand in a road rights-of-way, signs that use trees and utility poles or painted or drawn upon natural rock formations or other natural features, and signs that are obscene as defined in the ordinance.
The main issue of concern during the meeting, was safety of those who are operating motor vehicles and may have their line of vision obstructed by the signs.
“It comes down to the fact that there are good places to put signs and not so good places to put them,” said County Planner Matt Mason.
Pointing to 441 South as an example, Mason used a slide show of businesses who use a variety of signs to illustrate the problems that may come when a driver who is exiting a business cannot see oncoming traffic.
“We really look to the DOT's standard when it comes to these ordinances. Ours mirrors theirs, but they don't really have the man power to enforce their ordinances,” said Mason. “Nine times out of 10, they pick up the signs during mowing operations.”
Another entity that boasts a strict ordinance is the Town of Franklin. Roland, who is the town planner, explained how tough it can be to try and enforce a sign ordinance to people who are not in compliance.
“We decided to enforce our ordinance and the DOT sent us some guys to help with that. There were businesses who weren't in compliance so we notified them to remove their signs. I'll tell you this, I don't get invited to as many Thanksgiving dinners as I did before we started the sweep,” said Roland.
The most significant problem encountered by county officials is the use of temporary signs—signs that do not use a permanent structure when being displayed.
“Ninety-five percent of the temporary signs are in the right-ofway where vision can be obstructed,” said Mason. “The problem is that you can hardly control it and there's people who don't realize they aren't in compliance. When we started seeing the biggest problem was during the sweepstakes explosion.”
Board member Peggy Patterson pointed to signs and different locations on the Georgia Road.
“These signs block your vision and the only thing you can do is pull up further. There's been three wrecks in just a small amount of time.”
County Commissioner and Planning Board Liaison Jimmy Tate pointed out that the commissioners wanted the board to review the current ordinance in order to make recommendations.
“Where I stand is that, if it's in the right-of-way, the DOT should enforce it,” said member Chris Hanners. “I don't see where the county needs to be involved, but I also think that if we are going to have an ordinance, then it needs to be enforced and I'm not a fan of selectively enforcing it.”
Board member Jimmy Goodman pointed to the mission of the sign ordinance that outlines the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens as the reason behind having an ordinance.
“I think the ordinance should be rescinded,” motioned Goodman. “If we look at the ordinance, the safety and health of the citizens is protected by the state. We don't need two ordinances. The county should act as an arm of the state to help enforce it.”
The board was split on the motion prompting Chairman Karl Gillespie to vote and break the tie.
“Based on the fact that I think this motion is too nearsighted, I have to oppose it,” he said leading to its defeat.
Tate said he would consult County Attorney Chester Jones about the sign ordinance and relay the information back to the board.
In other business, Tate asked the board for their assistance on a lingering issue in the county. He pitched an idea for the upcoming year to examine existing properties owned by the county.
“I thought about asking Jack [Horton] to examine these properties, but he's got a lot on his plate so I thought who better to ask than the planning board,” said Tate. “We've got properties around the county that we own, that we're not doing anything with at the moment. I want you to look at the properties and decide what they can be used for in the future, if anything. I think we can sell a lot of these off because they're not helping us, we're just losing on the tax we could be collecting each year.”
Roland suggesting taking the results a step further and adding them to the county's comprehensive plan.
“What do you think about putting this in the comprehensive plan? What I'm saying is that we could do this because it doesn't set anything in stone, the plan just provides the county with a blue print for moving forward,” said Roland.
The next meeting is scheduled for July 18. A public hearing concerning the county subdivision ordinance is set for July 9.
*Additional information provided by Macon Media.