By DOTTY NIST
After board discussion and airing of community opposition to allowing sandwich board signs on the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 South Scenic Corridor, the Walton County Scenic Corridor Design Review Board (DRB) voted against allowing these signs on the corridor.
The vote took place at the DRB’s March 6 meeting at the South Walton Annex.
The DRB is tasked with review and consideration of aesthetics-related components of developments proposed for the U.S. 98 and U.S. 331 south of the bay and, among other duties, making recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioner (BCC) on amendments regarding the design review process for the corridor.
In January, the BCC had authorized the start of the approval process for revisions to the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) that would allow businesses to use sandwich board signs along the three county-designated scenic corridors, those being the CR-30A, Scenic Gulf Drive, and U.S 98/U.S. 331 South scenic corridors.
The DRB was the first board to be asked for a recommendation as part of the approval process.
Currently, sandwich board signs are not allowed along any of the county-designated scenic corridors, although they are not prohibited from other county roads.
At the March 6 DRB meeting, Walton County Planning and Development Services Director Wayne Dyess explained that the initiative to allow sandwich board signs on the scenic corridors had begun with CR-30A. When this type of sign began to show up on CR-30A and Walton County Code Enforcement began “cracking down” on sandwich board signs, there had been requests from businesses for a look at revising the code to allow these signs on CR-30A, he explained. Later the BCC had opted to include the other scenic corridors in the revision language.
DRB approval is required for ground and building signs along the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 South Scenic Corridor. DRB member David Bailey asked if each sandwich board sign would come before the DRB for consideration if the revisions were approved.
Tim Brown, county planner, responded that this would not be required. He said the planning staff member serving as scenic corridor specialist would be tasked with reviewing proposed sandwich board signs for approval as minor proposals. They would be considered temporary signs, Brown explained.
The proposed sandwich board sign language states that these signs would be allowed to remain out only during the hours that the business is open and would be required to be removed each evening not later than 9 p.m.
Bailey said he had seen a few “prefab” sandwich signs along the corridor that “looked terrible”— and that he would certainly not want to see similar ones throughout the area. He was not sure if the proposed language would ensure against unattractive signs.
Dyess told the board members that the BCC’s direction to planning staff had been for the sandwich board signs allowed to be attractive. He noted that the proposed language prohibits the signs from being composed or containing reflective materials or lights and does not allow balloons, or paper to be attached to the signs.
Dyess told the board members that he would be happy to convey any suggestions the DRB members had on the language to the BCC.
Bailey suggested that photographic examples be provided of signs that would be allowable.
DRB member Colleen Sachs indicated that her biggest concern would be the possible use of garish colors.
Dyess responded that the planning department would be open to allowable colors being specified as part of the proposed revisions.
There were also comments from DRB members that sandwich board signs would not be effective along U.S. 98 because of the high speed limit. However, there was also discussion that signs would tend to be noticed more when placed in shopping centers along the corridor in which people would be walking by the signs.
Mark Davis, county attorney and DRB attorney, recalled that the move to include U.S. 98 had been due to concern about a church being able to put out a sign advertising events and services.
Dyess explained that, per the proposal, sandwich board signs would be allowed no closer to the highway than 20 feet from the entrance of the business displaying the sign.
Sachs suggested that the distance be reduced to 10 feet from the entrance, if the proposal were approved.
Representing the South Walton Community Council, Mary Konovsky spoke in support of the existing signage ordinance for the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 South Scenic Corridor and against the proposed revisions.
Konovsky maintained that dealing with requirements for sandwich board signs would overburden an already-overloaded Walton County Code Enforcement Department—and that allowing sandwich board signs would create an appearance of clutter on the scenic corridor. Konovsky also noted that clarity is lacking over which properties would be considered businesses and would therefore be allowed to use these signs.
She added that there were site distance issues in connection with the proposal and that the signs might pose a hazard for bicyclists, as well.
Representing the Scenic Corridor Association, a private business group supporting the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 South Scenic Corridor, Leigh Moore echoed the concerns expressed by Konovsky, also stating the association’s opposition to the revisions. She warned that sandwich board signs would be detrimental to the aesthetics of the corridor.
While one sandwich board sign may be considered minor, Moore observed, “hundreds are not.” She expressed the Scenic Corridor Association’s hope that the DRB would recommend against U.S. 98 and U.S. 331South being included in the revisions.
DRB member Tim Norris observed that the job of the DRB is to “make sure the scenic corridor stays scenic,” while supporting businesses.
Moore also stated that the Scenic Corridor is “not anti-business.” She noted that many business owners who had initially opposed the county setting standards for the corridor now understand that those standards “help their businesses succeed.”
Moore commented that reducing the distance of the signs from 20 feet to 10 feet from the entrance would certainly be better. However, she observed that in many parts of the corridor the businesses are quite close to the roadway, potentially resulting in a cluttered view from the highway if sandwich board signs are allowed.
Asked about enforcement, Dyess responded that it would be through the citation process.
Konovsky asked how many code enforcement officers are on duty at 9 p.m. when sandwich board signs would be required to be brought inside.
Dyess responded that code enforcement does modify hours of operation to respond to current issues of concern. Any sign left out in the right-of-way would be considered abandoned and would be removed by code enforcement, he added.
With discussion concluded, Bailey moved to deny the addition of the proposed language to Chapter 13, the portion setting standards for the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 Scenic Corridor, “because…limiting size and number of signs to maintain its natural beauty is a priority.”
The motion was approved with all aye votes of the four board members in attendance, resulting in a recommendation of denial.
Plans are for the proposed revisions to also be heard by the Walton County Planning Commission at a future meeting and later be brought back before the BCC for a final decision.
In other action at the March 6 DRB meeting, the board members voted to deny approval of a monument sign for Santa Rosa Plaza, based on a lack of similarity of appearance and color between the proposed sign and the architecture of the plaza.
By DOTTY NIST