HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Discussion of the sign ordinance revision continued at the monthly county meeting, held on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, at the Towns County Courthouse. A 90-day moratorium was enacted in July, temporarily freezing permits to authorize off-premise billboards in Towns County. The decision was reached after an influx of requests reached the Towns County Commissioner’s Office, the result of a lax mandate. While eight billboards currently exist within the county lines, with several more were grandfathered in prior to the suspension.
Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw assured that extensive contemplation and deliberation is being applied to the reconstruction of the signage decree.
“I’ve talked to business owners. I’ve talked to the public. I’ve been trying to get input from a lot of people, knowing in my heart we’re doing the right thing the whole time, and after doing the research that I have done, there’s no doubt in my mind, and after hearing from different folks in the county,” Bradshaw said, implying that allowing billboard companies to have “free reign” would be detremental to the county, “A lot of people have their opinions on that, but I’ve got facts.”
According to reports, Steven Phillips, a local property owner who wished to erect signs on private land, contested Bradshaw’s stance at a Towns County Planning Commission meeting, held on Sept. 11. FYN did not attend the forum due to conflicting coverage, meeting with the commissioner the following day to recap the session. Bradshaw noted opposition from a sole citizen, though claimed widespread public support on the matter.
FYN spoke with Phillips on Wednesday, Sept. 19, offering an opportunity to include a contrasting view on ordinance revision. While Phillips concurred that certain billboard restrictions should be placed on out-of-area advertisers, Phillips expressed concern for personal property rights and local business owners. “I can understand restrictions on industrial billboards, but there’s far more at stake than signs being an eyesore,” Phillips explained, “What about businesses that are off the beaten path, the ones that rely on signs to advertise? More local business owners, the ones that have a dog in the fight, need to get involved in the process. It hasn’t been thought out. It can hurt businesses.” A purported proposal to allow a single sign, affixed on either the face of the business or by the roadside, was troublesome to Phillips as well.
Commissioner Bradshaw tells FYN that he isn’t aware of dialogue regarding an either/or on-premise sign restriction taking place, and agrees that Phillip has a valid point concerning small businesses. “The ordinance is something we are continuing to refine,” Bradshaw said, “Steven (Phillips) brought out a good point. The last thing we want to do is hurt small businesses by not allowing them to advertise. We don’t want to hurt them by allowing excessive billboards to weaken the economy either though”
At Tuesday’s county meeting, Commissioner Bradshaw cited a portion of the information he had studied, stating most – although stressing not all – billboards advertise out-of-state products and services, lacking a beneficial connection to the local economy. Bradshaw stated that tax revenue gained would be scarce in exchange, garnered through estate additions that would raise assesments, and in turn, taxes for the owner of the property on which the signage was placed. The commissioner listed studies conducted in larger cities that had toughened their sign ordinances, resulting in an increase in revenue to the local economies by millions of dollars in the years that followed. Bradshaw relayed that billboard control is imperative to a thriving tourism industry, reciting research conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America, which lists natural beauty as top criteria for visitors. According to the study, the more a community does to enhance its unique natural, scenic, and historic assets, the more tourists it attracts.
A firm proponent of capitalism personal property rights, Bradshaw is an avid advocate of preserving the pristine nature of the county while simultaneously growing the native economy “in the right ways.”
“We want businesses to advertise. Do not take me wrong, but we do not want to kill our businesses by over-advertising. We don’t want to kill our real estate market by over-advertising with signs everywhere, and I feel very strongly about that,” Bradshaw concluded, reiterating that he is working diligently with Towns County Attorney Robb Kiker to finalize the decree. Although the 90-day moratorium, which suspended billboard permits, expires in mid-October, the possiblity of an extension exists. “We want to get it right the first time,” Bradshaw avowed, limiting the possibility of future amendments.
FYN has previously reported on the billboard ordinance, and will continue to follow developments, updating the process as the moratorium deadline approaches