County mulls tougher sign rules along Waccamaw Neck

  • Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Georgetown County Planning Commission moved closer to sending updated signage regulations for Waccamaw Neck to County Council.

Commissioners have been discussing updates with county staff for months, and hope to vote on an ordinance at their June meeting.

The signage regulations would only apply to the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay District.

At the monthly Planning Commission meeting last week, Chairman Brian Henry said “significant progress” had been made, and he did not feel the county was “overreaching at all.”

“We’re not trying to be overly restrictive,” Henry added.

Some of the issues commissioners wanted addressed include height, illumination, readerboards, pole vs. monument, and materials.

County planning staff researched the sign ordinance adopted by Mount Pleasant to offer comparisons.

Current regulations allow a shopping center’s main sign to be 25 feet tall. Mount Pleasant allows 20 feet. Commissioners are considering keeping the 25-foot restriction for shopping centers with four or more tenants, and allowing only 15 or 20 feet for other commercials uses.

Much time has been spent on discussing illumination, especially as several business have erected what county staff terms signs that use “intense illumination” in the overlay district. Commissioners prefer signs that use external illumination.

Mount Pleasant requires all illumination come from a steady, stationary light source, and all signs have an opaque background so only letters and logos are illuminated at night.

Henry expressed the commission’s wish to not allow readerboards, although existing ones would be grandfathered in if the ordinance was changed. Staff said it would be possible to allow readerboards but prohibit moving characters or lights.

A television screen sign in front of the new Owens Liquor Store in Litchfield was mentioned, as county staff wondered whether that was considered a readerboard. Staff members said language would have to be added to the ordinance to cover that type of sign.

Commissioners have said in the past they do not like signs that use a single metal pole. They prefer “monument-style” signs, which rest on the ground or on a base. The county already has rules governing monument signs, but the definition could be clarified in the overlay district to minimize the space between ground and the bottom of the sign. There may also be restrictions on the shape of the sign.

A recent request by a developer to use vinyl inserts in signage was opposed by the commission, which suggested routed aluminum. Mount Pleasant requires a “matte finish,” which would prohibit vinyl inserts.

The commission has discussed requiring sign materials to be compatible with approved building materials and colors. Changes to the ordinance could head to County Council without new restrictions on building signs.

Henry and the other commissioners also discussed whether any new sign regulations should be enforced on U.S. Highway 17 Business in Murrells Inlet.

Henry said the county should expect “significant opposition” to any new rules in that area, therefore the commission should consider excluding it from the new regulations.

Planning staff suggested the commission come up with a definition for all types of signs to avoid businesses finding loopholes, and restrict the shape of signs, to avoid a business erected things like shark-shaped signs.

In other business

The Planning Commission approved a request to keep one lot in the Murrells Inlet Village Planned Development completely residential.

As originally approved in 2000, the Planned Development allowed residential as a conditional use “combined with permitted commercial and office uses.” There are commercial units near where the residential units would be built.

Donald Smith, the developer, believes when County Council originally approved the Planned Development, it didn’t expect there to be residential and commercial in every phase.

“The spirit of the zoning has been carried out as originally intended,” Smith said.

Smith feels like having commercial only and residential only blocks keeps the mix of the whole project.

The Planning Commission’s decision does not have to go before County Council.

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