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Controversy over signs resurfaces
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Hinesville's new "sign cop" has riled real estate agents, but their request to allow temporary open house signs on city right-of-ways was put on hold by the city council Thursday.
Realtors have been battling with officials for years on the issue of placing signs in right-of-ways, but their furor has increased in the last few months since a new code inspector was added to the city's Inspections Department.
Coldwell Banker, Holtzman Realtors broker George Holtzman told councilmembers that despite regulations in the city's sign ordinance prohibiting temporary signs in right-of-ways, traditionally a blind eye has been turned on open house signs in these locations. With the Inspections Department needing to use its limited workforce for higher priorities, he said there was an unwritten rule that realtors could put signs in right-of-ways from noon Friday to noon Monday without repercussions.
That changed "recently when the city hired this additional ordinance person to work weekends" and open house signs began being removed for violating the 15-foot setback rule, according to Holtzman.
"Up until then...we were ignored," he said. "Before even though the ordinance was there, it was overlooked or just not enforced."
Now that the sign ordinance is being strictly enforced, realtors believe they are unfairly targeted by the new "sign cop" and want an official exemption to the regulations, Hinesville Area Board of Realtors President Jimmy Shanken said.
"We feel as though the provisions in the sign ordinance that prohibits the placement of open house directionals from noon on Friday until noon on Monday and most importantly the 15-foot setback rule for yard signs is extreme and unfair," he said. "We also feel that police tactics are not being enforced equally across the board. Realtor signs are being removed, however, many other signs are being left in violation in clear view of the signs that were removed."
Highlighting redeploying troops and new soldiers expected to come to Liberty County in 2011, Shaken said "signs are the number one means of advertising with the soldiers coming here to drive around and become familiar with the areas in which they may live."
He argued "high impact fees and strict ordinances" have steadily driven potential homeowners into neighboring Long County and that making it harder for local realtors to advertise properties could increase those numbers.
Shanken added his organization agrees there is a need for a sign ordinance "so that Hinesville will not look like the Las Vegas strip," but members want special provisions for their industry, at least until a new sign ordinance is put into place.
"(We) are asking that the sign ordinance be reviewed and we be allowed to place our yard signs one foot outside the right-of-way and place our open house directional signs in the right-of-way from (noon) on Friday until (noon) on Monday until a common sense ordinance is approved," Shaken said.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, however, advised councilmembers not to make a decision before considering other issues surrounding the sign ordinance and taking into account recommendations from the sign ordinance committee currently being formed.
"We're in the process of getting a board set together to look and review the entire sign ordinance," the mayor said. "What I recommend, and it's up to (the councilmen), is that we study this issue until the next city council meeting and then come back with an answer for Mr. Holtzman and Mr. Shanken.
"And one of the things we've got to consider is what we're talking about here is temporary signs and they affect more than the real estate community."
Councilman David Anderson asked if it would be possible to allow an exception just through the summer, which Holtzman said is typically the peak time for realtors.
Councilmembers agreed to revisit the issue at their May 15 meeting, which will start at 1 p.m. in city hall.
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