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Planning commission delays action on message boards

Savannah business owners with message boards as part of their roadside signage will have to wait a few more weeks before throwing away their long poles and plastic letters.

The Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission on Tuesday tabled a text amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance that would allow businesses, schools, churches and other public use organizations, such as fire stations and government agencies, to incorporate electronically controlled message areas into their signs.

Board members requested clarifications, specifically regarding sign area size, to the proposed amendment. The board will take up the amendment again on Feb. 19.

Currently, only businesses in certain zoning districts could utilize electronic message boards. The restriction forced many to utilize manual message boards – those changed using a long pole with a suction cup on the end

Under the proposed text amendment, the messages on the electric signs must be static — no flashing or scrolling — and could only be changed once every 24 hours. The amendment also includes restrictions on lighting and sign area.

“We’re updating our capability of updating messages from manual to computerized method. We’re not going to see signs with dancing guys on them,” board member Ben Farmer said.

Electronic message boards would still be prohibited in landmark historic districts.

The affordability of digital signage has led to an increased call for ordinance changes, said MPC staffer Amanda Bunce, who led efforts to craft the proposed text amendment.

The MPC recommended allowing electronic message boards for businesses in a mixed-use zoning classification, known as B-N, last July.

Many churches and schools, many located in more residential areas, have shown interest in electronic message boards as well.

Several board members expressed dismay that the proposed text amendment would not apply to two existing digital signs – one in front of the Chatham County Health Department on Eisenhower Drive and the other near the Savannah State University entrance at Skidaway Road and LaRoche Avenue.

Both institutions are state agencies and were not subject to the city’s sign ordinance when the boards were installed.

“That health department sign is blinding,” board member Thomas Mackey said. “Somebody is going to hit somebody out there some night.”

 

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