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Wednesday, 21 August 2013 13:10

Waynesville puts brakes on the slow creep of sandwich boards, for now

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Pending changes to Waynesville’s sign laws could pave the way for sidewalk sandwich boards downtown, but they aren’t legal yet.

 

The upright, folding signs have been on the uptick nonetheless, forcing Waynesville code enforcers to issue a stern reminder to downtown merchants to rein in the proliferating sandwich boards.

Waynesville Code Enforcement employees mass-mailed businesses in and around its downtown, warning owners that if they saw temporary signage outside a store or restaurant, the owner would be fined $200 for each day it remains there.

Businesses such as Panacea Coffeehouse, Café 50 and City Bakery have all pulled their sandwich boards off the sidewalks following the town’s warning.

For a long time, Waynesville’s code enforcers ignored the smattering of sandwich boards that popped up in front of downtown businesses. In fact, rather than fighting an uphill battle to enforce the ban, the town may simply embrace the scourge of sandwich boards with changes to its sign ordinance. A final decision is pending further study.

However, last month, when Jack and Yvonne Wadham, the owners of Frog Pond Auction in Frog Level, were cited for mounting a large sign to a truck outside their business, the couple cried foul.

“It’s either for all or for none,” Yvonne Wadham said, adding that they felt singled out.

No other business owners were facing fines even though they were violating the town’s sign ordinance too, the couple argued.

“They came in with a list of other violators,” said Town Planner Paul Benson. “In the name of being fair, we have to take notice of it.”

That is when the code enforcement office decided to send out a warning letter to businesses, even those without portable signs.

“We are not ignoring anything now,” Benson said.

Since then, Downtown Waynesville Association Executive Director Buffy Phillips has heard from both sides about the sudden enforcement of the town’s sign ordinance.

“There have definitely been a lot of people who have made phone calls and sent emails,” Phillips said.

In many cases, the business owners just want everyone to follow the same rules. City Bakery in Waynesville used to have a chalkboard propped up near the entryway listing a few of the food and beverage items it offers, but Jeff Smith, who runs the restaurant with his wife Megan, took it in after the town’s letter. Unlike some, Smith wasn’t upset by the town’s change in enforcement.

“I don’t have a problem with what the town is doing as long as it’s the same thing for everyone,” Smith said. “I believe in consistency.”

He said he doesn’t think the loss of the sandwich board will affect the business — that is, as long as no one else is allowed to set one up. 

“If no one else had it, then no, I don’t think it would hurt us,” Smith said.

City Bakery also has a menu posted in its window. Smith said that passersby often see that just as much as a sandwich board.

“It does help business because I see people out there looking at it,” Smith said.

Wadham said the auction house always saw a boost in walk-ins whenever it placed a portable sign outside and wants the town to allow such signage.

“It is something that is going to attract attention and attract people to your business,” Wadham said. “My foot traffic that came in my business was triple.”

Wadham had not limited her signage to a sandwich board, however. She had been sticking signs up and down the street in flower planters and in the ground around street trees, and well as mounting them on her husband’s truck parked in front of the store.

One concern over portable signs is that they can block the sidewalk.

“Our sidewalks are very narrow, both in Frog Level and downtown. We have a lot of foot traffic,” Phillips said.

If the town ultimately allows sandwich boards, there would be restrictions on where they can go. There would need to be 5 feet of clear walking space on the sidewalk in front of the building, and the signs must be within 3 feet of the business and should not block entrances. 

The planning board is seeking input on the proposed sign ordinance changes, Benson said, admitting that business owners likely didn’t have enough input in the past.

“That is something we probably didn’t do a good job of when we first drafted the ordinance,” Benson said. “It was a little extreme I think.”

Another change will allow businesses and nonprofits to hang up or post event signs advertising a special event for up to 30 days.

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