By DOTTY NIST
The county commission has opted to consider allowing sandwich board signs on one or more of Walton County’s scenic corridors, and the commissioners recently gave staff direction on the working draft of the ordinance that would allow these signs.
This took place at the Dec. 10 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the South Walton Annex.
The draft ordinance would modify Section 7 of the Walton County Land Development Code in order to allow sandwich board signs on scenic corridors on a limited basis. Some sandwich board signs have been used on scenic corridors despite being prohibited by county code.
Currently the county does not prohibit sandwich board signs on roads other than scenic corridors.
As presented to the BCC, the draft ordinance would define sandwich board signs as temporary, portable signs that are not permanently fixed in place, usually constructed in an A-frame configuration with two hinged faces, displayed outside a business. Businesses would not be allowed to place sandwich signs in the right-of-way and or in a manner to obstruct the safe use of sidewalks, bike paths, or building entrances.
One alternative suggested for the draft was that only one sign per business would be allowed, and no sandwich board sign would be allowed to be placed closer than 150 feet from another such sign. In the instances of multiple businesses close together, it would be up to the landlord, shopping center management, or an agreement between businesses to determine which businesses would be allowed to put up sandwich board signs.
Alternatively, or additionally, each business or storefront would be allowed to place one sandwich sign no further than 20 feet from the business entrance.
Sign size limits per the draft are a maximum of six square feet per side and not more than 48 inches in height. Display hours for signs per the draft are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and only during hours when the business is open.
Prohibited sign materials would be reflective or lighted materials, and no appurtenances such as balloons, wind socks, or paper would be allowed to be attached to the signs.
County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman commented that he foresaw enforcement issues for the first few months if the ordinance were approved. He also expressed concern for businesses which put their sign out according to the rules and then would be in violation if another business placed their sign closer than allowed.
Wayne Dyess, county planning and development services director, responded that in the case of a common area shared by businesses, “the entity would control.”
Larry Jones, county administrator, added that, the way the ordinance would work, all businesses in a shopping center would be in violation if one were in violation. The idea, he said, is for businesses to work together.
The commissioners were asked for direction as to the corridors on which the signs would be allowed.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander said she had heard from businesses on CR-30A that they wanted to use the sandwich board signs. She added that one person from U.S. 98 had told her they were against the use of the signs.
Chapman said he had received emails from people on Scenic Gulf Drive who said they were against allowing the signs there.
It was discussed that sandwich board signs would likely not be effective for advertising along U.S. 98 because of the higher speed limit.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows countered that some churches along U.S. 98 had used signs advertising their vacation Bible schools.
She suggested allowing sandwich board signs on all three county-designated scenic corridors. If the signs do not work due to higher speed limits, people won’t use them, she reasoned.
Meadows was against allowing sandwich board signs based on speed limit. She pointed out that speed limits are subject to change.
Jones said he interpreted the commissioners’ consensus as to include all scenic corridors in the draft, including CR-30A, Scenic Gulf Drive, and U.S. 98. He pledged to proceed in that direction and bring the resulting modified draft back to the BCC for further direction.
In citizen comment, Mary Nielson expressed concern that ensuring that the signs were not in the right-of-way would be “a real issue for code enforcement,” and she expressed opposition to taxpayers having to “pick up the tab” to have property surveyed for this purpose.
Walton County Code Enforcement Officer J.C. Alford countered that code officers would be able to use boundary markers and “good judgment.”
Bob Hudson urged for St. Rita’s Catholic Church to continue to be allowed to use their sandwich board signs. “They are trying to save lives,” he said.
Meadows brought up the black-and-white community directory signs that have been used for some time by businesses located off main roads in order to make their presence known. She said that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) had required some of those signs located on state highways to be taken down. Meadows added that the county is looking at ways to help the businesses that have been affected by DOT’s action.
Comander asked whether the draft would allow sandwich board signs on cross streets off the scenic corridors.
Jones responded that his assumption would be that the signs would be allowed on all roads associated with the three scenic corridors.
For the CR-30A Scenic Corridor, included roads are all of CR-393 and CR-395, along with the portions of CR-83 and CR-283 located south of U.S. 98. The U.S. 98 Scenic Corridor includes the portion of U.S. 331 lying south of the bay. No other roads are included as part of the Scenic Gulf Drive Scenic Corridor.
Once finalized, the ordinance draft will require Walton County Planning Commission consideration prior to final consideration by the BCC. In addition to public hearings before those bodies, public workshops may be held on the proposed ordinance as well.
By DOTTY NIST