Originally created 05/11/00

Businesses react to local sign ordinance



When he learned that flags and signs at his produce stand would have to come down in three weeks, Franklin Neely took the news calmly -- at first.

He and his sister Lucretia Atkins were seated in lawn chairs inside the stand at the corner of Peach Orchard and Tubman Home roads Tuesday when city license manager Stewart Walker gave them the news.

Mr. Walker told Mr. Neely the city had adopted a new sign ordinance the previous week and handed him a list of prohibited signs.

"What it basically says is signs like your flags and temporary signs are not going to be allowed," Mr. Walker explained.

"OK," Mr. Neely said.

"We're not going to be able to allow them," Mr. Walker continued. "You can have a permanent sign."

"How about the peanut signs?" Mr. Neely asked. "They got to go, too?"

"Yes, sir, they're supposed to be gone, too," Mr. Walker said.

Mrs. Atkins bristled.

"Beats all I've ever heard of," she said. "What we gonna use for advertising?"

"I'm a county farmer, and I pay taxes," Mr. Neely said.

He said he was glad an election was coming up and would be calling his representatives.

"I think it's terrible," he said above the roar of the traffic. "I mean, small-business people don't have any other way of advertising. I don't gross enough income to put an ad in the paper or get on television. I'm just down here trying to make an honest living."

He pointed to two portable signs across the road and asked whether they would have to go.

"They got to go, too," said Mr. Walker. "You can get one once a quarter for 15 days. You have to come out to our office and get a permit."

"I ain't going to mess with it," Mr. Neely said. "I didn't sell plants this year because it costs you $6 or $7 for a license, and you've got Kmart and Wal-Mart, all them people to compete with. I didn't think it was worth buying a license.

"It's got now where you've got to have a license to do this and a license to do that. And it all cuts in on the little man. Wal-Mart's going to wind up with it all before it's over with. That's what's going to happen."

Mrs. Atkins said the sign ordinance was a "disgrace.

"We'd better go to the polls and vote all these people out and start over," she said.

Mr. Neely, like two others Mr. Walker visited Tuesday afternoon, didn't know the ordinance was coming even though there were two advertised public hearings.

"We don't have time to read the newspaper," Mrs. Atkins said.

A committee, appointed by Mayor Bob Young, worked on the ordinance with City Attorney Jim Wall and Planning Commission Director George Patty for about a year. The Augusta Commission voted final approval May 2.

At the Station House convenience store on Peach Orchard Road, owner Inho Choi said he had received the notice from Mr. Walker's office that morning.

"Now which one is out of ...?" Mr. Choi began before Mr. Walker asked him to walk outside.

"All the temporary signs," Mr. Walker said, pointing to various signs.

"So virtually all these signs are illegal?" Mr. Choi asked.

"All of these signs have got to go, under the new ordinance, yes, sir," Mr. Walker said.

"Wow," said Mr. Choi. "All right. I was thinking it was one on the electrical post."

At Acura of Augusta on Gordon Highway, Mr. Walker explained the ordinance to manager Robert Pennington.

"This is a copy of a new sign ordinance passed last week by Augusta-Richmond County," he said. "It tells you what you can do and what you can't do. And all temporary signs, banners, flags are illegal now, which includes your Acura flags and banners up there."

"Our flags? Right here on the parking lot?" Mr. Pennington asked.

"That's right. Yes, sir."

"OK."

Mr. Walker spoke with owner Greg Hodges, who was leaning on a nearby car watching.

"Banners, flags, pennants are not allowed anymore, starting the first part of June," Mr. Walker said.

Mr. Hodges said he hadn't read the list yet but was sure he would comply. If it would clean up the county and make it look better for visitors, he was for it, he said.

"As long as everybody complies with it and everybody plays by the same rules, it shouldn't hurt anybody," he said.

On the other hand, Mr. Hodges doesn't want the ordinance to be counterproductive to business.

"I hope they contacted some local businesses and got some input as far as what would be appropriate and what would be inappropriate and what would help and what would hurt from purely a business point of view," he said.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.