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Looser sign rules could let Waynesville business owners sing it from the rooftops

fr signsGiant blow-up gorillas, bouquets of balloons, plastic banners strung from awnings or poles and billowing fabric figures piped full of air — these previously banned forms of attention-grabbing signage could soon be gracing Waynesville’s businesses under a proposed slate of sign ordinance changes.


And to think it all started with sandwich boards.

A hue and cry from downtown Waynesville merchants angling for chalkboards and folding signs — mostly restaurants wanting to promote their special of the day — kicked off a review of all the town’s sign laws several months ago.

“We had been hearing our ordinance was too restrictive,” said Waynesville Town Planner Paul Benson. 

Revisions would loosen the sign laws on the books, allowing for taller signs, larger signs and more signs covering store windows. It would also open the door for various types of portable, temporary signs — like inflatable gorillas on roofs or banners on stakes.

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The town has held several workshops to gather input, which primarily came from merchants asking for the changes. Those wanting looser sign regulations have been driving the process so far, Benson said.

“It was a group of what you would call stakeholders, people who use signs and make signs,” he said.

Benson said his goal during the sign ordinance review was to give business owners more flexibility to promote their products to passerby, but not jeopardize the appearance of the community in the process.

“My starting point with this was maintain the bulk and majority of our current standards and make the changes as slight as possible in response to the requests we were getting,” Benson said.

A public hearing on the sign ordinance changes will be held by the planning board at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at town hall. A second public hearing would be held before the town board at a future date, before town leaders vote on the proposed changes.

One of the biggest changes in Benson’s eyes is opening the door for banners and inflatable characters at intermittent times of years. Businesses could fly banners and decoys for a two-week stretch at a time, four times a year — or once a quarter.

If too many crop up on the landscape, however, Benson said “I honestly doubt that would look very good.”

And the pendulum could then swing back the other way.

“Then we would have people coming to us saying we need to get rid of all these banners,” Benson said.

Waynesville’s current sign ordinance dates to the adoption of sweeping smart-growth policies a decade ago. The goal was to preserve Waynesville’s quaint, small-town character and sense of place with various appearance guidelines — from architectural standards to landscaping to signage limits.

But the sign regulations have been systematically watered down in the intervening years. Changes to the sign ordinance have come along every couple of years, loosening the regulations by allowing bigger, brighter, taller signs.

“Every change that has been made has been to loosen it,” Benson said, but that goes without saying. “The ordinance was so tight as originally written there was no way to make it tighter.”

Benson said this set of changes is probably as loose as the town could go without starting to compromise or sacrifice the town’s appearance.

Back to the sandwich boards, though. If passed, the chalk boards and folding signs could soon be touting the quiche of the day, discounted holiday-scented candles or the special coffee drink du jour. Sandwich boards must be near the entryway of the business — not anywhere along the sidewalk — and limited to merchants in the central business district — not along Russ Avenue.

Another sticking point in the sign ordinance that’s been hashed out in the rewrite: how to handle signs plastered on vehicles and parked in front of the store as a sneaky way of side-stepping sign rules.

One business owner, Frog Level Auctions, was recently fined by the town for strapping a huge sign to their truck and parking it along the street in front of their store — what the town saw as an apparent attempt to circumvent the town’s sign rules.

But, if a business owner has their name and logo permanently painted on their vehicle, and there is nowhere else the business owner can park it other than out front, then it would be allowed to slide, according to the clarified section of sign rules.

One last change would allow a larger window area to be plastered with signs. The current law is 16 square feet, but 50 percent of a business’ window glass could be covered with posters and signs under the proposed changes.

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