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Downtown may get internally lit signs

The Waynesville town board will consider a request to loosen sign regulations for the downtown district for the second time in two years.

Two years ago, the board of aldermen increased the size of signs allowed in the downtown district from pedestrian-scale signage to be among the largest allowed anywhere in the town’s limits. Now, the town board is considering a request to allow internally illuminated signs — signs that have light bulbs inside rather than illuminated external spot lighting, which is considered more subtle.

The town will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at town hall on the request for internally lit signs. The downtown district extends from Main Street to Frog Level.

Both the request to increase the size on signs allowed in the downtown district two years ago and the current request to allow internally lit signs came from Rex Feichter, the chairman of the town planning board.

Feichter owns a building downtown and said his tenants who do not have Main Street frontage have complained about their lack of visibility and want larger, more eye-catching signs. The building houses more than a half dozen businesses, but they face a private alley and signs on their doors are not visible to foot or vehicular traffic.

Any request to alter town regulations must come before the planning board first. Feichter presented his request to fellow planning board members last month. While he lobbied the planning board to allow the internally illuminated signs, he could not vote on his own request due to a conflict of interest.

“I have to do something here,” Feichter said when presenting the request to the planning board. “Some of my tenants are threatening to bolt.”

Feichter also lobbied for increasing the size limit on downtown signs in order to help his tenants when presenting that request two years ago.

After an ordinance change is approved by the planning board, it must go before the town board for final approval.

The town’s original land-use plan banned free-standing signs. Instead, signs had to be attached to the building’s façade.

The change two years ago made sign regulations in the downtown area among the most liberal anywhere in town, allowing six-foot high signs, which is on par with Russ Avenue regulations. Signs in nearly all other commercial areas — including South Main Street, the Old Asheville Highway and Hazelwood — are capped at four feet. The idea of signs becoming bigger as one approaches the quaint downtown district is a reversal of the land-use plan’s pedestrian-scale goals.

The current request before the town board to allow internally lit signs will apply throughout the downtown district but exempt the historic section of Main Street.

The changes are among several made to the town’s land-use plan — which had received numerous state and national accolades — over the past two years.

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