BZA Nixes Sign Appeal

BLYTHEWOOD – In a unanimous decision that never wavered, Blythewood’s Board of Zoning Appeals on Monday evening rejected Sandy Kahn’s appeal for an exemption to the Town’s sign ordinance.

In June, Kahn had asked former interim Town Administrator Jim Meggs to allow her to place two new and separate ground signs on her commercial property at 152 Blythewood Road – one for her State Farm Insurance business and a second for the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center, both of which are located in a building at the back of Khan’s property. That building also houses the Blythewood Artists Guild. All three offices rent space from Kahn. In a memo to the BZA, Meggs explained that under the Town’s sign regulations, “Only one sign is permitted….There is no exemption for signs erected by or on behalf of a civic organization.” Meggs said that signs placed by civic organizations are subject to the same regulations as commercial signs.

In her application to appeal Meggs’ decision, Kahn countered, “According to my interpretation, it is clear to me that the exemption (for multiple signs) is applicable since the building is being used for civic purposes.”

Kahn was called out of town and could not attend the meeting Monday evening. Although Buddy Price, a member of the Bravo Blythewood board of directors, had not signed up to speak at the meeting, he asked to speak on Kahn’s behalf. Price said he was accompanied by Mike Switzer as a representative of the Chamber and Jean Bell as a representative of the Blythewood Artists Guild. He said Kahn had asked them all to speak.

“We agree with Ms. Kahn’s request for an exception and that it is warranted for the reasons she gave,” Price said. “The sign we’re asking to be erected in front of the Blythewood Art Center would be a shingled sign directing people to the Visitor’s Center and that’s the argument being made, that two signs are appropriate because it is directing to an entity that’s part of the town that we think is incredibility important.

“When you come off the interstate, there is a sign directing to the Visitor Center, but there are no other signs to show you exactly where it is located,” Price added. He also told the Board, “The other entities (Blythewood Artists Guild and Chamber of Commerce) listed on the Visitor’s Center sign, while they aren’t part of the administration, they are certainly entities that are working closely with the Town. “

In opening remarks, BZA Board Chairwoman Sabra Mazyck concurred with Meggs’ denial of a sign exemption, saying that while the Town certainly supports activities of the Chamber, Visitors Center, Arts Center and others, that support does not deem these organizations governmental bodies.

Mazyck continued, saying the Town holds other businesses in the Town to one sign even when places like Maggie’s Restaurant and many others have begged for a directional sign because their businesses were in out of the way locations.

“There are many signs (on Kahn’s property) that I have seen and one more would be just be too many,” Mazyck said. “As chair, I would like to see all of the commercial businesses in the Town held to the same code of standards for the erection of signs as well as sign code enforcement.”

While BZA Board Member Joseph Richardson suggested Kahn might remodel her existing sign to reflect all the offices located on the property or even bring the request back to the BZA as a request for a variance instead of an exemption, he also made it clear to those requesting the exemption, “the Board has no authority to misinterpret the law. The law is pretty clear.”

Richardson, an attorney, said Mazyck did a good job summarizing the law in regard to Meggs denial. He said the Board has five criteria under the BZA statue to hear a variance request, but that this was not a variance request.

Board Member Ray Fantone said that he likes “to see consistency. The rules are right there so that we don’t start looking like every other exit off I-77. I don’t see any extenuating circumstances to (Meggs’) ruling.”

Although considerable controversy arose when Price wanted to continue to argue Kahn’s case to the Board, he was allowed to do so. Richardson reminded Price that if he was representing another person (Kahn), “that probably should have been expressed earlier.” Richardson suggested that, in the future, a letter from the original applicant be submitted to the Board ahead of the meeting explaining that another person would be representing the original applicant. “That would clear up who gets to speak and when,” Richardson said.

In his second address to the Board, Price argued that while some references have been made to multiple signs that are currently on the property, he dismissed them as not pertinent to the issue, saying “this sign ordinance is addressing street signage. . . . Only one street sign is on the property.”

The day of the meeting, The Voice counted six different and separate signs on the property advertising one or more of the four offices (Visitor’s Center, State Farm Insurance, Blythewood Art Center and the Chamber of Commerce).

“We think the ordinance allows the Town to approve what we’re asking for,” Price said.

“But that’s not an issue before us tonight,” Richardson said. “As a procedural matter we have to be careful this board doesn’t act in a way that will incur liability for the Town in terms of equal protection issues.”

Prior to the vote, Richardson suggested to Price that perhaps the Town government would have the authority to place its own directional sign at the entrance to the building at the back of Kahn’s property, and that they might want to talk to the Town Administrator in that regard.

Should BZA have its own attorney?

In a related matter, the Board had asked Town Administrator Gary Parker about retaining an attorney for BZA meetings.

“The reason we are concerned about this,” Mazyck told Parker, “is that we’re the only judicial board the Town has, and because of a decision we made three or four years ago, the Town government sued us.”

Parker told the members that he had done considerable research on the matter, contacted the Municipal Association of South Carolina as well as a number of town governments in the state and concluded that most Town BZAs do not retain their own attorney or have them at their board meetings. He said that neither the state law nor the town law required it. Mazyck accepted Parker’s advice and said the board would move forward without an attorney present.