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Sandwich boards: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Judge not lest ye be judged.

The Waynesville Planning Board is delving into the town’s sign ordinance to create more uniform, yet more permissive signs in its three downtown shopping districts — greater Main Street, Frog Level and Hazelwood — something that can appease at least most business owners.


“We have to write it one-size-fits-all,” said Town Planner Paul Benson. “We can’t write standards for every individual business.”

The board is re-examining its current ordinance, which “may be too restrictive,” in Benson’s opinion. “I think the easy road was to say you can’t have anything.”

The downtown sign rules first came under scrutiny over folding sandwich boards, often used by shops and restaurants to let passersby know about menu specials or deals.

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Although the sandwich boards are illegal under the town’s sign ordinance, they crop up regularly along downtown’s sidewalks.

Benson’s proposed solution was to lift the ban and allow sandwich boards. It would certainly solve the enforcement headache but could also lead to a proliferation of the sandwich boards.

At a meeting this week, the planning board looked at five other towns in North Carolina — Boone, Asheville, Brevard, Davidson and Hendersonville. Of the five, only Boone did not permit sandwich boards. The other four did, though with restrictions as to size, placement and number.

Benson suggested sandwich boards be allowed only for businesses that don’t have freestanding signs along the sidewalk or street. He also suggested limiting them to four feet tall and two feet wide.

The main problem would be ensuring that the sidewalks remained clear. 

“We really don’t want to get in a situation where we have them blocking the sidewalk,” Benson said.

“Or to have a thousand of them on the street,” chimed in Marty Prevost, a member of the planning board.

To prevent the latter, Benson advocated for an application process. The town would review requests for sandwich boards and visit businesses to make sure all the requirements can be met before giving someone a stamp of approval.

But rather than moving forward with Benson’s recommendation, the planning board is creating a task force to study various types of signs and recommend regulations for Waynesville.

Buffy Phillips, director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, proposed that the board take time to further study the matter before coming to a decision.

“I just hope that we don’t move too quickly and make the wrong move,” Phillips said. “I just want to make sure we do what is best for the downtown.”

The task force will consist of at least a couple of planning board members and volunteers who own businesses in one of the three districts.

At the beginning of the Monday meeting, the board took 15 minutes to listen to part of a webinar by James Brooks, a downtown development specialist. Brooks created the video as an education tool to show signage best practices.

Brooks suggested only permitting the sandwich boards for restaurants because they are used to show off specials.

“I think that is an allowable use,” he said in the video.

Brooks also recommended creating a “Sign Gestapo,” or collection of business owners, to judge their peers’ requests for a sandwich board permit.

As part of the revamping of Waynesville’s sign ordinance, the board will look at relaxing its standards for hanging signs as well. Currently, they must be eight feet above the sidewalk. Benson recommended changing that to seven feet.

However, Wine Seller owner Richard Miller said the awnings suspended over business entrances, particularly on Main Street, would hide some of the hanging signs from view. In the video by Brooks, towns with hanging signs did not have awnings.

“They are not going to work as well downtown here as they did in the video,” Miller said.

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