Commonwealth Journal

July 29, 2013

Problem Signs

Somerset Council is ready to rid highways of proliferation of signs

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

 
The signs are everywhere, and in Somerset’s case, that has never seemed more true. 
City officials want local businesses, organizations, and citizens to know that they plan on ridding the city of the influx of signs that have sprung up in the hundreds. 
“We’ve had some council people talk to us, and also some citizens about the proliferation of all the temporary signs all along (U.S.) 27,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler during a workshop meeting on Monday, July 22. 
Girdler said he drove around a quarter of a mile on U.S. 27 and counted hundreds of signs, many of them advertising new business openings, big sales and even yard sales and garage sales.
“Some council people have said it’s becoming an eyesore,” said Girdler. “(U.S.) 27 is especially bombarded with signs.” 
In this case, the city isn’t facing a new ordinance to keep the signs from U.S. 27 and other major roads. The city has a sign ordinance dating back to 1995, which was amended in 2005, addressing just that issue. 
The purpose of Ordinance 95-3, amended by Ordinance 05-16, is to “promote and protect the public health, welfare, and safety by regulating existing and proposed outdoor advertising, outdoor advertising signs, and outdoor signs of all types. 
“It is intended to protect property values, create a more attractive economic and business climate, enhance and protect the physical appearance of the community, and preserve the scenic nature and beauty of designated areas,” according to the ordinance. “It is further intended to reduce sign or advertising distractions and obstructions that may contribute to traffic accidents, reduce hazards that may be caused by signs overhanging or projecting over public right-of-ways, provide more open space, and curb the deterioration of the natural environment and enhance community development.”
The ordinance includes language that strictly prohibits signs placed in intersections and on right-of-ways except traffic and directional signs. Signs located off the premises of a business — what many signs located on U.S. 27 would qualify as — are prohibited as well. Those signs located on the premises of a business must be limited to two free-standing signs.
Signs are not allowed to be placed on trees or utility poles, according to the ordinance.
Several councilors seemed ready and willing to face the issue.
“If we’re going to have an ordinance, let’s enforce it,” said Councilor Jerry Girdler. “If not, let’s not even have it.”
Councilor Jim Mitchell, who has brought the signs up in past council meetings, said he believes officials will receive praise for the enforcement alongside complaints from businesses and organizations found to be non-compliant. 
“I think you’ll get as many compliments as you will gripes,” said Mitchell. 
City Building Inspector Dennis Crist helped draft the 1995 ordinance, and he appeared during the workshop to give his own take on the situation. 
 “We had the city looking really good,” Crist said. “Nobody had a problem with it as long as we were treating everybody the same.”
Crist said he estimates that 99 percent of the city’s signs are non-conforming — meaning they’re in direct violation of the city ordinance. 
“We’ve slacked up and it’s ... gone downhill since,” said Jerry Girdler, who called the high number of signs “trashy.”
Councilor Donna Hunley also threw her two cents in, and agreed that something should be done. 
“I think we need to enforce it,” said Hunley. “Make our city beautiful.”
Mayor Girdler said the city may be facing additional questions about what constitutes a sign in the near future because some advertising strategies have appeared since the ordinance was last amended. 
Mayor Girdler said local businesses will non-conforming signs will be told about the enforcement and asked to remove the signs within 30 to 60 days. He said the city will then go from there. 
Mayor Girdler also announced the council’s decision to enforce the ordinance during the Somerset City Council meeting held later that evening on July 22. 
“We will be strengthening and enforcing our sign ordinance, particularly along 27 in our intersections,” said Mayor Girdler, who added the city will contact businesses with signs “littered throughout 27 ... so it doesn’t look so cluttered and junky.”
Ordinances 05-16 and 95-3 can be found on the City of Somerset website at:
 www.cityofsomerset.com