New city sign regulations nearly finalized

Published 9:07 am Friday, February 12, 2016

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After two workshops, two Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission meetings, and numerous meetings with residents and business owners, the new Elizabethton sign regulations appear to be on the path to becoming law.
In a vote of 6-1 the resolution to enact a revised sign ordinance passed on its first reading in City Council. It must still pass on a second reading and after some concerns voiced by Sam Shipley, discussion of amendments are in the air.
The new regulations, if passed on second reading, will replace section 14-501 through 14-504, which have received some negative feedback from Planning Commissioners and residents alike for being vague. The changes also came in response to the fact that the previous sign ordinance regulated signs by their content, which is now illegal. The proposed ordinance regulates by zones, sign size, sign type, location and some other features.
In summarizing the effects of these changes, Elizabethton Director of Planning and Economic Development Jon Hartman said it will allow for types of temporary signs for a limited time period and off-premise signs, as well as clarifying grey area regarding the appeals process, fee schedules, lighting and other formerly unclear elements.
Councilman Sam Shipley voted against the passage of the ordinance, because it allows for monument signs in residential areas. According to the proposed regulations, these signs could be up to 36 square feet, but no taller than five feet and must be constructed for long-term use with materials such as stone or brick.
“That’s a pretty big sign for a residential district,” he said.
Hartman said that following discussion regarding monument signs at a Planning Commission workshop, they elected to keep this size sign.
“[The Planning Commission] felt that the likelihood and expense that would be involved with such a sign would be really be the barrier between that kind of action happening,” he said.
Hartman said Commissioners wanted to allow for neighborhood signs, but for them to not be too “obtrusive,” so they went with this size.
City Manager Jerome Kitchens asked if it would be possible to restrict those types of signs to specific areas like subdivisions, and Hartman said the best way might be to allow them along collector or arterial roads only.
Shipley stood by his concern that this would be a “visual nightmare” and voted against it for this reason.
No other major concerns were raised, and Councilman Tester said, “It is my opinion that this is a much better overall document than the previous ordinance.”
Though Hartman said there are substantial changes and clarifications, he said businesses and community members will likely not notice significant changes.
In other news, Carter County Emergency Management Agency will receive the telephones which the city is retiring.
“We can use these to accommodate agencies during an emergency scenario,” said Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Smith. He referenced the recent Chattanooga shooting and said during situations like that, agencies come to assist and need workspace, so what would likely happen is they would use the classrooms at the airport and the city’s phones to accommodate them.

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