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BY JEFF BRANSCOME
Spotsylvania County resident Dana Marshall likened business banners along roads to junk mail.
But unlike junk mail, she said, she can't ignore the banners.
"I can't avoid these signs when I'm driving on the road and when I need to be focused on the road," she said during a Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday. "I really do consider that sort of an assault as I'm getting to and from my neighborhood."
Marshall was one of two speakers at the hearing who advised against a proposed ordinance that would loosen restrictions on business banners.
But the Planning Commission, which has emphasized its support for business-friendly policies, recommended a plan that would let all businesses display two banners anywhere on their property for an unlimited period. Member Cristine Lynch cast the only dissenting vote.
Currently, only new or relocated businesses can display up to two banners--and for only 90 days after opening.
Still, many businesses violate that rule, as evidenced by the proliferation of banners along busy roads like State Route 3. Spotsylvania asks them to take down banners--defined as signs made of lightweight fabric or similar material--only if it receives complaints.
The Board of Supervisors, which has final say, will vote on the issue early next year. Supervisor Timothy McLaughlin asked that county staff address the restrictions after hearing a complaint from a business owner.
Lynch, however, said she thinks that all of the temporary banners along parts of Route 3 have made Spotsylvania look like a "junk heap." That lessens community pride and hurts economic development, she said. "Think of a tourist coming from I-95 to the Chancellorsville battlefield," she said. "What does that person think about our community? Is that the kind of image we want to present to the world?"
She said she would support the banner ordinance if the county banned so-called sailboat signs, which are considered banners and resemble the sails of small boats. She called them the "tackiest of the tacky."
Sailboat signs would be allowed, based on the Planning Commission's vote. The total size of the two banners per business cannot exceed 60 square feet.
The Planning Commission asked for a report on the effectiveness of the banner ordinance in six months if it's approved.
Planning Commission member Scott Mellott said he thinks the proposed ordinance is easier for businesses to understand and for the county to enforce.
Commissioner Mary Lee Carter said she supports helping businesses but worried about deteriorating or fallen banners.
During the public hearing, Spotsylvania resident Rupert Farley said banners are singled out by the county for a good reason--they don't last.
"So they should get second-class status, and I think they should be kept in second-class status," Farley said.
Commissioner John Gustafson, who is a Realtor, said most of the affected business owners--such as those in strip malls--are leasing their properties from other entities. The actual owners do not want their properties deteriorating and will respond to complaints, he said.
"The government is not the best avenue to address a tattering sign," Gustafson said. "It is going back to the owner of that property and saying, 'Do you know what's going on here?'"
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402