Proposed changes to Columbia County’s sign ordinance will now head to the county commission for approval.
The Columbia County planning commission signed off on the changes with a unanimous vote Thursday.
“There has been a lot of hard work from the staff, a lot of meetings, the public’s been involved with this, I think we have done a good job, the public and the staff,” District 2 planning commission member Donald Skinner said after making a motion to approve the changes. “We want to remind you that there are two more reads.”
Speakers at the meeting included local sign-business owners voicing concerns about specific parts of the proposed changes. Also present were members of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, including its president, Shawn Vincent.
Vincent commended the planning commission and staff for their work so far, but said some of the proposed changes needed tweaking.
“We are pleased that they have been very amicable up to this point and certainly looking to find resolution and the ability for us to find common ground, and I think they’ve actually come a long way,” Vincent said after the vote Thursday. “We are really almost completely on the same page except for maybe two or three sign heights and sizes, so we feel like we have made a great deal of progress, but it is our position that we have to continue to represent our membership.”
In March, the chamber’s board of directors publicly opposed the proposed changes. Vincent said that the county has compromised on several aspects of the proposed changes including the percentage of windows allowed to be covered with signage. The chamber asked that business owners be allowed 50 percent of windows covered by signage, up from the county’s originally proposed 30 percent.
But no movement has been made on the chamber’s request for use of 100 percent of perforated vinyl signage, or the recommendation to increase sizes of signage, among others. The president of the Builders Association of Metro Augusta, Ralph Bowles, said at the meeting he supported the chamber’s recommendations. Bowles said later that he had preferred the remaining tweaks be made before going to the county commission.
“I think that’s a step in the right direction. There have been so many tweaks and they have been doing so much, but why not get it right now. Let’s get it right now,” Bowles said after the vote. “Sure, they’ll give a variance, but it will take six weeks sometimes and time is money, so why six weeks? We need to do it right, now, and we’re close and they’re going to get it closer.”
The proposed changes will move to the commission for consideration. According to previous reports from planning director Andrew Strickland, the ordinance is expected to undergo multiple changes.
Vincent said the changes were a collaborative effort.
“Ultimately we want to do the right thing for the county. We certainly don’t want it littered with a lot of different types of signage, but we do need to understand the expenses and unintended consequences sometimes of some of these proposals,” he said. “This isn’t an adversarial relationship, we just want to make sure that the businesses are heard and we want to make sure that from the county’s perspective that we have an understanding of what we are trying to achieve.”