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Business owners say no to changes in sign ordinance

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By Brian Slattery

LELAND—Some Leland business owners don’t like the town’s plan to change its sign ordinance.

At last Thursday night’s monthly town meeting, officials opened a public hearing for responses about ordinance. The issue was not up for a vote.

Town planning director Robert Waring explained the new ordinance, if approved, requires all non-conforming wall and ground signs to be brought into compliance with town ordinances within five years or be removed.

“Businesses were notified if they have non-conforming signs. The attorney was specific to the staff to identify as many sign owners (as possible),” Waring said. “We made an extensive list of non-conforming signs.”

Waring said the town advertised the signs were non-conforming in a half-page newspaper advertisement and sent notices of the public hearing to sign owners.

Waring said the ordinance change was specific to wall and ground signs anywhere in town.

Ground signs include individual business signs. Wall signs include shopping center signs that list multiple businesses.

Town ordinances for most commercial or office and industrial signs require they are no more than 32 square feet in size and 6-8 feet off the ground.

Signs for a new business would not be allowed to be installed on shopping center signs until the business owner brings the wall sign into compliance.

Businesses owners can contact the town to show their signs are within the legal limit, Waring said.

But owners who spoke at the hearing thought the change was a stop sign for Leland businesses.

“I’m concerned, as a businessman, with the sign ordinance. I’m speaking against it,” Dennis Anderson, owner of the McDonald’s in Clairmont Shopping Center, said.

“You have a gold mine driving past town. You get a good percentage of the sales tax. I’m concerned the sign ordinance is so restrictive it could affect that (negatively).”

Anderson said for a McDonald’s, customers being able to see the red sign can affect sales by 30 percent.

He added fast-food shoppers make a decision 75 percent of the time on impulse and when they are driving by a highway exit at 60 miles per hour, the sign has an impact.

Reggie Stanley, chief operation officer of GoGas, said the station has been in Leland for 31 years but the town is making things difficult for business—first with the road divider on Village Road and now with the sign ordinance.

“Price is the number one factor when (customers) buy gas. Number two is convenience,”

Stanley said.

He told the council gas stations depend on drawing customers by putting their prices on a big sign.

“We fight with competition day in and day out, but our toughest competition is regulations,” Stanley said. “This area is the toughest on regulations.”

E.G. Dale, owner of shopping centers on either side of Village Road, said he has been in Leland since 1951 and doesn’t see the point of the ordinance crackdown.

“The signs have been here all these years. People riding 60 miles an hour down the road want signs they can see,” Dale said. “If there is a problem, let the public come here and complain.”

Skip Wittkofsky, owner of Skip’s Truck Tire Service on Village Road, said the idea of a sign only 6 feet off the ground is ridiculous and will cost businesses customers.

He said the Village Road divider cost the town four to five businesses, and the sign ordinance will close more.

“I’m totally against what you are trying to do. Everyone in business understands you have to have a sign,” Wittkofsky said. “Has anyone who designed this ever had a business? What is the purpose of the lower sign?”

Tim Grieson, manager of Waffle House, also opposed the ordinance.

Grieson said the Waffle House has been in town for 17 years and has built a good regular customer base, but the business brings visitors who come to the coast in the spring and summer because they see the high-rise sign off U.S. 17.

He added drops in sales cause drops in staff. A loss of a third in sales would mean he would have to cut his 22-person staff by a third as well.

“The employment issue is big. We take pride to employ locals, and we do not want to lose employees,” Grieson said.

The Leland town council voted to continue the public hearing to the Feb. 21 meeting to receive more responses before deciding on the sign ordinance.

 

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.