Council votes to grandfather town’s 35-foot interstate signs

Non-conforming Landscape Ordinance Also Amended

BLYTHEWOOD – Addressing a proposal by Town Council to dismantle two more key ordinances that were put in place by previous councils aimed at creating a more attractive Town Center District, former Councilman Tom Utroska told Council Monday evening that it would be inappropriate to amend the ordinances at this late date.

At issue is the current council’s desire to eliminate sections of the non-conforming landscaping and buffering ordinance and the non-conforming sign ordinance.

A previous council passed an ordinance on July 27, 2015, requiring all non-conforming properties located in the Town Center (TC) to comply with landscaping/buffer yard requirements within five years from the adoption of the ordinance.

Another ordinance, passed in 2013, states that all ground mounted signs in the I-77 Sign Overlay District, including three 35-foot tall signs on the interstate, be required to be brought into compliance with zoning by Jan. 26, 2020.

Town Administrator Brian Cook said a fourth sign, an off-premise nonconforming outdoor advertising sign for Exxon/Bojangles, could arguably be covered under the SC Landowner and Advertising Protection and Property Valuation Act, which in essence would call for just compensation’ for removal caused by ordinance.

On June 5, 2019, notices of sign noncompliance were mailed to the Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn Express & Suites and McDonald’s.

“These businesses were notified of the deadline to bring their ground mounted/free standing signs into compliance with the sign regulations,” Cook said in a memo to council.

While many of those signs have since complied, the current council proposes to delete the sections of the ordinances for those who have not. If the amendment is passed, the four 35-foot tall signs on the interstate would be grandfathered in.

“This landscape ordinance was discussed at the time with all the businesses and the town council,” former Town Councilman Tom Utroska said, addressing council. “The affected businesses have had either five or seven years to comply with these ordinances, and it is inappropriate now to change it,” Utroska said.

“We’ve been making other businesses abide by it and now we’re going to change the ordinance,” he said. “We shouldn’t do that.

“The ordinance shouldn’t be amended just because some businesses haven’t complied in what I think has been a fair and reasonable time,” Utroska said. “And, again, this was discussed with the businesses at the time. Everybody discussed it, and we had a reasonable understanding with everybody that this was going to occur, that it was appropriate and it was done. They [businesses] were given time enough to depreciate it off as an asset and take the write-off from the government and not suffer greatly from it.”

Addressing the Exxon sign, Utroska said, “If we can spend $85,000 to build a fence across the bridge out here, we can figure out how to do whatever we have to do to take down the extra Bojangles sign and paying what’s appropriate.”

Cook said an alternative approach to the landscape ordinance would be to work with the remaining business owners on matching façade/landscaping grants.

“Blythewood is still small enough that we could potentially work with a landscape architect and our business community on a specialized case by case plan for each business,” Cook said.

Approval of the sign amendment would grandfather in the four 35-foot tall signs in perpetuity, and would allow the sign faces to be changed should the business change. All new businesses, including any new hotels, would be required to comply with the current code at that time, Cook said.

Two other ordinances aimed at improving the town’s appearance and walkability were abolished in recent years. Two years ago council abolished an ordinance to require new buildings to be pulled closer to the street with parking in the rear of the buildings. The previous year it abolished an ordinance requiring mandatory second stories on new builds in certain areas.

Those ordinances, according to former Town Councilman Paul Moscati, who addressed council on the issue in 2017, were designed to make the town more attractive and to promote walkability in the town.

The Town’s Economic Development Consultant Ed Parler told Council that the regulations for a more walkable community were a hindrance to the economic growth of the town.

The planning commission voted 3-2 last month to recommend that council approve the landscape amendment. However, the commissioners voted 3-2 to recommend against council approving the sign amendment.

Council voted 5-0 to approve first reading on both amendments.