Time to bring sign clause back to law

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By Chuck Witt

Some time ago, there was a promise made in this column that there would be no more comments about signs.

That promise is about to be broken. And may be again in the future, because the abuses of signage and the lack of adherence to sign regulations continues.

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First and foremost is the abuse by those who conduct yard and garage sales and who place signs (usually very poorly made signs) in the public right-of-way.

Surely there is some way to craft an ordinance that will penalize these people without someone having to actually see them placing the sign. The inability to do so at the present time allows this problem to continue.

But on to a more specific point. Several months ago, the Office of Planning and Community Development prepared a modest proposal — a change in the existing sign ordinance — which would have required business signs to be removed after a business had closed or moved to another location.

Removal of the sign would have been required within 45 days.

This proposal simply put back into place a requirement which had previously existed, and was removed at some point, despite its inclusion in the ordinance by a signage committee composed of some 13 people working over several months.

It makes absolutely no sense to allow closed business signs to remain in place — except in very limited circumstances, such as historical significance.

There is a business listed on the sign at Boonesboro Plaza, a business which has been closed for more than three years.

There are some shopping areas in town which are very diligent about removing signage once a business has closed. They do this because it makes good business sense.

There are some businesses which remove their own signs if a location closes because they don’t want to advertise they were unsuccessful, for one reason or another, at that location. A small bank on the bypass is an example.

If signs are removed from buildings where a business no longer exists, it permits the owner of that building to make the public — and potential new businesses — aware that the location is available.

Here’s a scenario. A business entrepreneur drives into town looking for a likely location to open a new enterprise here. As he or she drives around and notices several potential locations appear empty, but there are still business signs in place. So they may simply assume that the location is not available and move on or go to some adjacent community where they find the space they require.

Empty stores and lack of signs may offer an appearance of decline, but they could also present an opportunity for someone new wishing to locate here.

Maybe re-instituting the provision for timely sign removal was sidetracked because the office became enmeshed in the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan, a process which is time-consuming and complicated.

But it is time for the sign removal clause to be placed back into the sign ordinance and there is no reason why this can’t be done commensurate with the work on the Comprehensive Plan, which is due to be completed shortly anyway.

It’s hard to imagine that there is a valid reason for leaving outdated signs in place.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.