By DOTTY NIST
Walton County has been notified that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) will move forward with tagging community directory or directional signs along U.S. 98 for removal.
These are the black-and-white multi-panel signs that the county allows community members and groups to place at intersections of county roads with state or federal highways. Permitting standards for the signs are found in the Walton County Land Development Code. Community directory signs help the public find businesses, subdivisions, and other entities located off main routes. Code requirements state that the signs must be located off the state or U.S. highway right- of-way and on the back edge of the county right-of-way.
A Dec. 3 announcement from Walton County noted that DOT had indicated that they would be placing a 10-day notice sticker on all such signs in the right-of-way that day. Owners of the signs are also to be notified by mail by DOT. DOT has indicated that all signs remaining in the right-of-way after the 10-day period will be removed by state maintenance crews. Directional signs along U.S. 98 off the right-of-way are to have a 30-day notice sticker placed on them, and the sign owners are also to be notified by mail.
This will be the second time in recent weeks that DOT has issued such notices regarding these signs.
Previously, DOT had attached notices to the community directory signs along U.S. 98, stating that they must be removed by Nov. 13 or else face removal. However, Mac Carpenter of Walton County Planning reported that day that, in a phone conversation, DOT had agreed to a 30-day extension prior to a determination on what would happen with the signs. Carpenter said that for some time there had been an ongoing conversation between DOT and the county on the signs—and that the notices had been a surprise to the county.
“These are very important signs,” Carpenter said of community directory signs in Walton County, speaking at the Nov. 27 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting in DeFuniak Springs
While stating the importance of the signs to the businesses and other parties listed on them, Carpenter noted that they are even more important to the traveling public.
However, he said there has been widespread noncompliance with the code provisions for community directory signs. Some signs have been placed improperly on the state right-of-way, he said, and some have been put up without a permit being obtained from the county. Carpenter said that state law prohibits advertising on state right-of-ways or within 600 feet of these right-of-ways, but that in the opinion of the county these are not advertising signs.
At the Nov. 27 meeting, District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander requested that staff determine how many community directory signs are in existence and how many of them have been put up without a county permit.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows called for more discussion on community directory signs. While agreeing that the signs serve a purpose, she said, “I think they’re ugly.”
She suggested the creation of nicer-looking sign structures equipped with slots for sliding individual sign panels into.
Meadows also suggested having the BCC chairman send a letter to DOT about the signs.
County Commission Chairman Kenneth Pridgen suggested getting the TDC involved with the project and having businesses buy a slot in the sign structures.
Carpenter commented that a format for the signs is set forth in county code, and that the code specifies that the county is not to incur expense for the construction or maintenance of the signs.
There was no action on the matter by the BCC, but Meadows spoke to the need for the topic to be put on a future BCC agenda for more discussion.
As of Dec. 3, there had been no decision by county commissioners on the signs and a solution to the problem was still being researched.
Any questions in regard to the DOT process with the signs may be directed to Mac Carpenter at 892-8157.