BAR Weighs in on Sign Rules

BLYTHEWOOD – After adding a couple of items to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, including a discussion of the proposed designation of the interior of the Blythewood Academy (the former Blythewood High School) gym as an historic property in the town, the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) considered a request by Mayor J. Michael Ross for a recommendation on the hotly debated sign ordinance.

BAR Chairman Michael Langston said Ross had asked the Board to make a recommendation to Town Council about the sign ordinance, which calls for all signs in the town, except the high-rise signs on the interstate, to conform to the code by January 2016. Langston told the board he was unsure exactly what the mayor was expecting of the Board in the way of a recommendation since the Board is charged primarily with the review of new construction and major renovations to signs.

“We’ve had at least four years of warning that the new (sign regulations) are coming (in 2016),” Langston said. “And, so, here we are and Gary (Parker, Town Administrator) wants to let these folks know (in a letter) a year out.”

Jim McLean, Chairman of the park committee and a member of the BAR, said that while there is a movement in the government to relax the sign ordinance restrictions, some of the signs are only slightly out of conformity. He said he didn’t understand how some signs in the town are out of conformity when they were reviewed by the BAR. In previous discussions at town meetings concerning non-conformity of signs, there was criticism that the town hall had allowed non-conforming signs to be erected after they had been denied by the Board of Zoning Appeal.

McLean reviewed for the Board that the mayor had called a public meeting to address whether the sign ordinance is too restrictive. At the meeting, two or three members from each of the town’s boards, commissions and the Chamber of Commerce were asked to sit on the panel. While virtually all of the hand-picked members of the mayor’s panel favored relaxing the sign ordinance or extended the deadline for up to several years, McLean said those members, including himself, were not speaking for the boards they sat on, but were giving their personal opinions, and suggested it would be a good idea for the boards to make recommendations.

“We got the cart before the horse there in terms of what this board ends up doing,” McLean said.

Langston said some businesses in the town have spent money and effort on newly erected signs to comply with the ordinance.

“I think we want to look very hard at where we want to be five to 10 years from now in terms of our master plan and what we we’re trying to accomplish with our signage,” Langston said. “Now we have an opportunity to address it and at least make a recommendation to the people who are going to make the decisions.”

After a power point presentation by Michael Criss, the Town’s Planner, showing some of the non-conforming signs in the town, BAR member Cynthia Nord suggested the Board’s input could bolster the aesthetics of the town’s signs, some of which she said were “really awful.” Nord praised the new things going on with the town and said she felt the maintenance of the signs is important, too.

“I think it’s really important that while we have this opportunity, we do make some recommendations,” Nord said. “There are towns where this is really important to them and they really stick with it. How our town looks is how people feel about us, how they feel coming here and how we feel living here.”

McLean added that making the community attractive, “is the single most important thing we can do to bring people to the town.”

Langston said he feels the town has been making tremendous strides and has done a good job to improve its appearance, and hopes the board members will come to the Jan. 20 meeting with some suggestions to be discussed regarding the sign code.

Band Shell

Earlier in the meeting, the Board reviewed and approved the appropriateness of the scale and aesthetics of an amphitheater band shell the park committee has been considering for the last year or so. The BAR recommended forwarding the proposal to an architect for a full scale drawing that would come back to the BAR along with lighting and sound suggestions before the package is eventually sent to Town Council for approval.

McLean said the shell measures approximately 48×40-feet and will be supported by three columns on each side, as opposed to the four corner posts as shown in the initial photo presented to the board. The concrete stage will rise a couple of feet above ground level across the front. A set of moveable screening walls are suggested as a backdrop for concerts and that can be removed for an open view of the pond and Manor, which sits directly behind the proposed shell. Mclean said the BAR’s approval virtually sets the design in stone, though there might be minor changes made during the final drawings.

“The shell itself will cost about $100,000,” McLean said. “Everything, including lighting and sound, should be completed for less than $200,000.”

McLean said the Park Committee will look to the Park Foundation to raise the funds to pay for the shell.

Election of Officers

Since only four of the seven board members were in attendance at the meeting, those members voted to delay the election of new officers until the Jan. 20 meeting.