Bryson City passed its first ever sign ordinance last month. The dearth of standards had led to unattractive sign clutter on the side of the road, with everything from flimsy yellow yard signs that read “Open” to signs tacked to trees advertising a service or yard sale to portable marquee signs.
Towns like Sylva and Waynesville have long had sign regulations and are continuously revising their standards.
“There needed to be some kind of control. That’s what it boils down to. There were so many little signs popping up and so many big signs,” said Dennis White, a member of the town’s planning board.
The planning board worked for more than two years on the sign ordinance, in part because changes to state laws regarding billboards forced the board to start again.
The final product, which the Bryson City Board of Aldermen approved last month, allows for sandwich board signs outside businesses and temporary signs, but there are rules. The sandwich boards must meet certain size requirements, and they cannot block the flow of foot traffic.
Temporary signs can only remain up for 30 days after their purpose ceases to exist. For example, political signs must come down 30 days after an election. Yard sale signs can only be posted for 48 hours, however. Signs of any type can’t have any flashing or blinking lights either.
Although the new regulations may be a lot to take in, Bryson City’s ordinance still give business owners more leeway than some towns.
“We were not trying to prevent people from having signs, so we made it as painless to the people as we possibly could while still trying to retain some control. It is not really a restrictive sign ordinance,” White said.
Although the ordinance addresses all types of signage, the main target of the new regulation were snipe signs, or temporary signs affixed to trees or utility poles. A family may tack a sign up to a tree to let people know about a yard sale, which is all fine and good, but after the sale, the sign often remains until a Good Samaritan or town employee removes it.
“They put them up, but they never have the energy to take them down,” White said. “There were some god-awful signs.”
Such signs are not only nuisances, but they are also eyesores for a town that survives based on its appearance. Visitors want to see mountains and a quaint downtown, not a bombardment of signs.
“The stakes are big if you are a tourist town, and it is not so much that we wanted to impose strict regulations on everyone, but you can’t tell anybody anything if you don’t have an ordinance,” said Bryson City Mayor Tom Sutton.
Sutton said he has seen people set trailers along the road with “For Sale” signs tacked to them — not the impression he wants visitors to have of Bryson City. However, it could take several months to figure out which signs can stay and which must go.
“We don’t really have the staff to go around and measure every sign in the town limits right now,” Sutton said.
Typically, existing signs are grandfathered in, but Bryson City’s new ordinance requires property owners and those who posted nonconforming signs to bring them into compliance.
Within six months, town employees should have identified nonconforming signs and given notice of when they must be taken down or altered to fit the new sign standards. People have five years to alter or remove signs that are more than 40 percent too large or too tall, according to the new regulations. However, no definite deadline is given for those signs that violate the ordinance for other reasons. Violators could face penalties of up to $50.