One doesn't have to be a tree-hugging greenie to be alarmed at a billboard owner's vow to cut down 1,800 trees because the Columbia County Commission refused his request for a variance.
Pudge Roberts, owner of Outdoor Mediaworks, asked for the variance for his Washington Road sign near the Club Car plant after county authorities told him the sign extended unlawfully close to the road.
The commission voted 4-1, with Chairman Barry Fleming in dissent, to turn Roberts down. The majority was heeding the words of Planning and Zoning director Jeff Browning who said a variance was inappropriate - that it's only supposed to be a tool for hardships, not convenience.
But what about hardships to the trees? Fleming rightly believes that should count for something - and it will, especially when phones start ringing off the hook if hundreds of trees are being chopped down. Roberts says they must go so folks can see his sign.
One commissioner, Tom Mercer, pleaded with Roberts to leave the trees alone. If that's how he feels, why didn't Mercer vote for the variance?
There's nothing to stop Roberts from cutting down the trees except his own sense of restraint. County inspectors gave him the OK to build the sign and now nothing can stop him as long as he doesn't disturb the soil. This means where there used to be trees there'll be tree stumps.
Somehow, though, we're optimistic this can be worked out before Roberts turns the landscape into an eyesore - that is if cooler heads prevail.
Roberts needs to realize that whatever commercial edge he gains by making his sign more visible to the public could be more than offset by the public relations disaster he'll bring on himself if he cuts down the trees.
And the commission must realize if the sign stays where it is no one will notice, or care, if it's 30 feet closer to the centerline than it should be.
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