Council loosens sign, landscape restrictions

BLYTHEWOOD – In a unanimous vote Monday evening, council voted to amend two Town Center District ordinances – one to allow, in perpetuity, several signs next to the Interstate up to 35 feet tall, and another to loosen restrictions on the landscape ordinance for businesses.

The amendment to the sign ordinance will also allow the sign faces of those signs to be changed should the business change. All new businesses, including any new hotels, however, would be required to comply with the more restrictive sign code written prior to Monday night’s vote, Cook said.

Monday night’s amendments dismantle sections of two key ordinances put in place by a former council with the stated intent of creating a more attractive Town Center District.

Former Councilman Tom Utroska told Council last month that it would be inappropriate to amend the two ordinances at this late date.

Non-conforming Signs

The sign ordinance, passed in 2013, stated that all ground mounted signs in the I-77 Sign Overlay District, including the three 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.

Cook said that 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 the businesses have since complied, Monday night’s vote deleted those requirements for the businesses who have not complied.

Utroska commented last month that the affected businesses had either five or seven years to comply with these ordinances.

“We’ve been making other businesses abide by it and now we’re going to change the ordinance for these,” 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 chamber 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.”

“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,” Utroska said.

Landscaping amendment

An ordinance put in place on July 27, 2015, required all non-conforming properties located in the Town Center (TC) District to comply with landscaping/buffer yard requirements within five years from the adoption of the ordinance.

Council amended the ordinance Monday evening to eliminate that requirement.

Cook said an alternative approach to the landscape ordinance would be to work with the remaining business owners [who have not complied] on matching façade/landscaping grants.

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

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 last month that the regulations for a more walkable community were a hindrance to the economic growth of the town.