Originally created 11/30/00

City finalizes sign ordinance



Earlier this month, an oversize helium balloon graced the top of the Just for Feet store in the Augusta Exchange to announce the store's grand reopening.

Then city officials told Ray Smith, the store's director, that the balloon would have to come down because it violated the new provisions of the sign ordinance.

So the balloon came down, and so will similar banners and signs now that officials have decided how to handle temporary signs.

"With Augusta in its growth, it was inevitable," Mr. Smith said. "I'm fine with it as long as we all apply by the same rules."

The new rules have taken months to finalize after business owners heavily criticized the original guidelines adopted in May.

"We had a good ordinance, I thought, in May, but obviously some of the people that it impacted thought it could be improved," Mayor Bob Young said. "We took the opportunity to be responsive to their concerns, and I think we've got a good ordinance here."

Last week, license and inspection officials sent out more than 5,000 letters to businesses outlining the new rules.

Under the ordinance's earlier terms, any business wanting to display a temporary sign would have had to apply for a permit good for 15 days per calendar quarter.

Now businesses in shopping centers are allowed to display one banner, restricted in size and mounted flat against the building, and one sandwich board.

The signs must be stored inside every night, but they do not require a permit.

Any business not housed in a shopping center can apply for a permit for one temporary sign for 30 consecutive days or three 10-day periods.

The permits will cost $25 per sign, plus a $15 inspection fee per period applied for.

The goal, officials said, was to forge a compromise that would reduce sign clutter while addressing concerns of business owners who called the earlier rules too strict.

Now that the amendments have taken effect, business owners have until Jan. 1 to comply or face a possible fine of $1,000.

"We're going to make sure they understand what the ordinance is before we start writing citations," said Rob Sherman, city license and inspection director.

Another contentious part of the original ordinance dealt with sandwich boards in areas such as Broad Street and Monte Sano Avenue, where the public right of way reaches storefronts.

The original ordinance stated that the sidewalk displays would not be allowed.

The new ordinance allows each storefront to keep a temporary banner and a sidewalk sign if the owner applies for an encroachment permit from the city's planning commission.

"It's good that they compromised," said Carol Craig, owner of Carol Craig Studio and Gallery at 1018 Broad St. "They're not charging us for a permit, but we have to apply for something that we've had up for three years with no problems."

The original ordinance and the amendments are intended to clean up the city's cluttered appearance, said Mr. Young, who has a car-trunk full of illegally posted flyers and handbills that he has taken down.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.