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EDITORIAL: Sign ordinances ripe for change

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By Ben Carlson

A story on this week’s front page reveals efforts by the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce to nudge once and for all the city and county into changing their ridiculous sign ordinances.

Those ordinances are virtually the same, but enforced differently by each, often to the point of ridiculousness.

Take, for example, Eagle Lake. Its owner has tried for years to get a green light to build a marquee-type sign near the Bypass, giving passersby a list of all businesses in the development.

Time and again he’s been told no on two fronts, one being that such a sign would qualify as a billboard, and billboards aren’t allowed; the other is that each business isn’t leasing the spot of land where the marquee would stand, therefore they can’t advertise there.

The first makes no sense because a billboard is a billboard, not a marquee.

The second, if taken literally, not only opens but kicks the sides right off Pandora’s box.

Consider how many other businesses advertise or promote their services on land that doesn’t belong to them via lease or ownership. Among the most obvious are for sale signs placed by real estate agents in the front yards of homes or businesses they are trying to sell. Neither the agent nor broker own the land, but are free to place signs there, promoting not only that the home is for sale, but the agent’s name, phone number and, in some cases, photos of themselves.

Another example is contractors working on homes. They are free to post signs in front of those homes, promoting themselves with names and phone numbers, too, if for no other reason than to gain additional business while working on their current job.

Yet a local lawn service of some repute reportedly placed a small placard near the bushes of a business it had just landscaped and the city’s enforcement agent was Johnny-on-the-spot, demanding it be taken down or he’d take it down.

One could argue that real estate agents and contractors are actively engaged in a contract with the homeowner or business, and therefore able to market their wares while under contract.

One could argue, too, though, that the lawn service was also under contract with that business and doing the exact same thing.

This isn’t to say that whatever changes are made to the sign ordinances should include banning real estate agents and contractors from using yard signs. Instead, it shows just how flimsy the current ordinances are, and how much work needs to be done to fix them.

There is entirely too much room for interpretation, which leads directly to selective instead of uniform enforcement and often leaves those in charge of enforcement in a no-win situation.

If the chamber accomplishes nothing more than getting loopholes taken out and uniform enforcement put in, it will have succeeded. For that it needs an open-minded city and county government willing to listen and finally tackle this problem.