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Sign of the times

Two popular vacation areas have very different approaches on how they present themselves.
Anyone driving south on Interstate 75 into Florida can’t help but notice all the billboards advertising everything from food and T-shirt shops to ‘entertain spots’ and alligator farms.
A song by Tesla comes to mind when I think about that long stretch of highway lined with billboard after billboard. You probably know the one: the chorus is, ‘Signs, signs, Everywhere there’s signs, Blocking up the scenery, Breaking my mind … ‘
But it’s a different story in Hilton Head, S.C. Sure, they have many of the same offerings as the Sunshine State, but finding them might be a little more difficult, as their advertisement gimmicks are more discreet. Advertisement signs sit low to the ground and are often hidden behind manicured shrubs and greenery.
Harrison County officials recently took steps in hopes of presenting what we have to offer more like Hilton Head, but without all the camouflage.
For some time now the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission has worked on a sign ordinance designed to preserve our beautiful landscape. County planner Eric Wise compiled ours after researching numerous others.
Some motorists may think traveling Interstate 64 across Southern Indiana is as boring as I-75 would be in Florida if it weren’t for the signs that provide a distraction.
For one thing, it takes longer to complete the alphabet game when there are fewer signs. The driver shouldn’t be playing, because his or her eyes should be on the road, but might still be indirectly distracted because of the signs: ‘Dad, can we stop at … ?’ ‘Oh, honey, there’s another outlet mall at Exit … ‘
And that is exactly one of the intentions of the ordinance proposed by the plan commission and adopted last week by the Harrison County Board of Commissioners ‘ to improve pedestrian and traffic safety.
The multi-page document is worth a read for any resident, whether a business owner or not, as it establishes a permit system for a variety of signs in commercial and industrial zones, as well as a limited variety of signs in other zones.
It provides the definition of several types of signs, including animated and/or flashing ones, illuminated signs, residential signs, window signs, and those constructed of pliable material such as cloth or plastic (a banner).
It also addresses flags, to include those representing individual states as well as the United States, and pennants, although those items usually don’t include advertisement.
Not only does the ordinance regulate what can be placed ‘ and where and its size ‘ there is a section that pertains to how many days a ‘temporary’ sign can be displayed.
Those are all good things to regulate, especially if you don’t want to be known as the billboard capital of the world.
But the ordinance goes one step further, and that’s where the beauty of it comes into play. There is a general provision that states: ‘All signs shall be maintained in a good state of repair. Painted faces or structural members shall be repainted whenever peeling or fading occurs. Neon tubes, lamps, ballasts and transformers shall be kept in good state of repair and in safe condition.
‘The county may order the removal of any sign, which becomes a public hazard due to lack of maintenance or repair.’
Harrison County may be the home of the first state capital, but our signs don’t need to look like they have gone untouched since that time.
As pointed out by the county commissioners, the ordinance may not be perfect and may leave room for interpretation, but it is a start. Revisions can be made as the need arises.
In the meantime, existing sign owners have six months to apply for a sign permit or face a violation notice. Read the ordinance to see if this affects you.
Consider it a sign of the times, that Harrison County officials are trying to be proactive rather than reactive. That’s always a good thing.