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Sign snatching a futile effort to enforce ordinance without teeth

Illegal temporary signs are so commonplace in Waynesville that Byron Hickox — the town’s land use manager — does a sign sweep once every week.

Hickox drives around the main thoroughfares, grabbing any sign that is not allowed and amassing a collection of banners, sandwich boards and small, plastic posters on stakes. The signs proliferate so rapidly that on a recent sign sweep, Hickox saw a new sign had cropped up exactly where he had carried one away just an hour earlier.

“There will never be a day when every temporary sign is picked up,” Hickox said at a town meeting last Tuesday.

It’s no wonder that Hickox is hoping the town board will make a change.

“You kind of hate to reopen that issue,” said Hickox. “But it may be time to do that.”

Hickox wants to see a fine system, especially since about three of every four signs he picks up are from repeat offenders.

“It doesn’t seem fair to the people who voluntarily follow the rules to pay for my time, wear and tear on the vehicle and gas to collect signs,” Hickox said. “The rule breakers ought to be the ones paying for the compensation.”

Hickox said the fine system shouldn’t “drop out of the blue sky,” and that proper publicity should be given so everybody knows the drop-dead date.

The town board can choose among three options: putting into place that fine system, changing the sign ordinance to make it less restrictive, or continuing with the status quo.

Waynesville Alderman Gary Caldwell said he objects to the idea of fines since it would disadvantage smaller businesses.

“I do have a real, real hard feeling for the little restaurants ... that just want to put out soup of the day,” said Caldwell.

Alderwoman Libba Feichter said the board should take action to make the situation more manageable, but she would not like to see a fine unless it becomes absolutely necessary.

“We can make it work for both extremes,” said Feichter. “We don’t want unlimited signage, and we don’t want our regulations to be punitive for small businesses.”

Sharon Wall, owner of Beau Monde Salon & Spa, admitted she was one of the habitual offenders Hickox mentioned, but for good reason.

“It does make a difference in my business whether that sign is there or not,” Wall said. “If it’s your payday, it’s very important.”

Compared to other communities, Waynesville’s sign ordinance is definitely on the more restrictive end of the scale. Several compromises were discussed. One was to allow temporary signs only for small businesses and only in certain parts of town. Another was to regulate the aesthetic appearance and placement of the temporary signs rather than ban them outright.

But Alderman Wells Greeley said his main concern is not the actual content of the ordinance.

“Whatever the code should be, if we’re consistent with it, I’d back it 100 percent,” said Greeley.

Charles Rathbone, a sign maker and owner of Sign World WNC, said the ordinance is too strict and could definitely use some clearing up.

“You think y’all are confused? This is my second career,” said Rathbone, who often calls Hickox to ask for clarifications on the sign ordinance.


What’s allowed and what’s not

Waynesville’s sign ordinance prohibits temporary signs, such as banners and sandwich boards. There are exemptions for certain kinds of temporary signs, however, including:

• Directional signs within a parking lot.

• Real estate signs, with only one sign per street frontage.

• Political signs, which can go up a maximum of 60 days before elections and must be taken down 14 days afterward.

• Construction company signs during construction.

• Garage sales signs on the property only.

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