Several business owners raised questions and expressed concerns Monday night about Richmond Hill’s proposed sign ordinance during a public hearing at City Hall.
The City Council votes May 7 on whether to approve the ordinance, which is 38 pages and covers everything from yard sale signs — allowed on private property and at the entrance to subdivisions but not on public right of ways — to billboards, flashing signs and more.
In all, about 20 people attended the second of two hearings before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The majority were business owners who would be impacted most by the new measures if they are adopted.
“Most of us I think came here to ask about things that affect us personally,” Hill House Coffee owner Ann Crockett O’Neal told the council. “Quill flags obviously affect me. I will tell you that on Saturday in particular I had five families come to my shop who were looking to buy houses or looking to move to Richmond Hill. I asked them how they found me. They said they found my shop because of the quill flag.”
O’Neal, who said she understood the need for an ordinance, also questioned parts of the proposed regulations restricting the use of sandwich board signs to within six feet of an owner’s business and limiting the time signs advertising grand openings would be allowed.
“Fourteen days is not enough for a grand opening sign,” she said. “You might want to consider 30 days. I have been open a year and a half now and I still have residents of Richmond Hill ask me, ‘How long have you been open?’ and when I tell them a year and a half, they say they didn’t know I was here. Fourteen days is not long enough for people to process something … some things you have to see over and over again.”
Richmond Hill Auto Care’s Liz Tomlinson and Baldino’s Brandon Routh both objected to restrictions the new ordinance would place on signs on vehicles.
“We’ve invested in a PT Cruiser as a form of advertising for us,” Tomlinson said. “The way you have the ordinance worded, we would have to park it in an inconspicuous spot. We need to be able to park it on our property where our customers can see it.”
Routh said he also uses a vehicle to advertise his business, which is inside the Clyde’s convenience store at the intersection of highways 144 and 17.
“I park it by the road. It draws in a lot of extra people from the area, like Liberty County and Wayne County, who stop by when they’re going to Savannah on the weekends.”
Routh said it was unfair to tell business owners what they could do on their own property.
“Each business has their own individuality,” he said. “You’re taking away that business individuality by telling us how we can keep our signs. If it looks good, we should be allowed to keep it. It’s a way to bring in customers.”
Attorney Michelle Henderson, currently the president of the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, also voiced concerns about the ordinance ranging from what constituted portable signs to the size of lettering.
Henderson said she wasn’t speaking on behalf of the chamber but rather “as a concerned business owner.”
A former county attorney, Henderson said she spoke to other lawyers about the ordinance and they found a number of issues.
“The biggest thing of concern is the idea of taking a permit and making it a subjective process,” she said. “If you have a permit and it has a criteria, the applicant should be entitled to an up or down vote, or a staff member issues the permit if the criteria is met or doesn’t issue it if the criteria is not met.”
Instead, Henderson said using an Architectural Review Board in the process “seems to be creating some heartburn by adding another level of bureaucracy to the decision-making process, which in my opinion ought to be objective rather than subjective.”
Henderson also voiced concerns over wording, noting use of “appropriateness” in the ordinance.
“Those kind of vague words are kind of fodder for lawyers,” she said.
And Henderson asked officials to reconsider a portion of the ordinance that limits the amount of time a sign can be up for approval.
“(That) puts the onus on the applicant to make sure the decision is timely made rather than the government,” she said. “It’s deemed denied if no decision is made within 45 days, whether or not the council makes a decision, and they can’t bring it back for six months.”
City Council member Russ Carpenter, who attended the meeting, said officials are working on that aspect of the ordinance and others.
Henderson said there were concerns on how the new ordinance would affect real estate and existing development.
Read more in the April 24 edition of the News.