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Refine sign ordinance, don’t dump it

The fate of a sign ordinance passed last summer by county officials may be at stake, following a deluge of complaints by persons who waited until the 11th hour to comply.
Harrison County Commissioners J.R. Eckart and James Goldman have received numerous criticisms about the ordinance that was adopted in July. Commissioner Jim Heitkemper said he has ‘not received the first comment from anyone here’ in the south part of the county that he represents.
The ordinance was adopted by a 2-1 vote, with Goldman voting against it. He says he still does not support it, mainly because it is ‘overdone’ and strayed from targeting billboards (which Goldman thought was the purpose of the ordinance) to include all sorts of signs.
We encourage the commissioners to remember the spirit in which the ordinance was developed ‘ to preserve the beautiful landscape of Harrison County, as well as improve pedestrian and traffic safety ‘ and to consider the ramifications if they should decide to rescind the ordinance.
Harrison County planner Eric Wise spent considerable time researching other sign ordinances before drafting the proposal. Then, the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission debated it for months.
The plan commission finally asked the public to come to a June 3 meeting to ask questions or voice concerns about the proposed ordinance. Plan commission chair Vic McCauley said, ‘We need to move forward … or (signs) are going to be everywhere.’
But, people either didn’t see the invitation (our news story was on page A2 on May 18), didn’t care about it or think it was important, or they didn’t think it affected them. After the meeting, the ordinance was forwarded to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners for consideration. The commissioners adopted it in July and an article announced their action.
For the most part, persons with signs still ignored the ordinance and failed to apply for free permits to bring their signs into compliance with the new county requirements.
That is, until another article was published Dec. 29, reminding people that they had about a week left to complete the application, for free, or be in violation.
The plan commission office was swamped with applicants. Eckart was inundated with calls, some charging that the ordinance was secretly adopted.
If the county commissioners were to rescind the ordinance, I suspect there would be a lot of angry people, mostly the same ones who were angry during that one-week period when many of the permits were issued. Those people took the time to measure their signs, take pictures of them, and go to the planning and zoning office to complete the paperwork. Many of them completed this task during one of the biggest snowfalls we’ve had in some time!
Wise estimates that at least 90 percent of the signs in the county now comply with the ordinance. The staff even issued a few permits for new signs to be put up.
Why upset people all over again now that most of them have done what was asked?
The sign ordinance wasn’t written to eliminate signs. Rather, its purpose has many aspects, including serving as a tool to create a record of what already exists in the county. It’s also intended to help create consistency regarding the size and location of signs. And the ordinance addresses sign maintenance ‘ signs must be kept in a good state of repair and a safe condition.
Instead of eliminating the ordinance, the county commissioners need to remember what they said when they adopted it: The ordinance may not be perfect (that’s obvious from the number of complaints) and it leaves room for interpretation (what ordinance doesn’t?), but it’s a start. They also said revisions could be made as needed.
The plan commission has already discussed changing the enforcement of the ordinance. Now the commissioners need to stand behind what they adopted. Find the weak spots in the ordinance and make it better, but don’t eliminate it. Rescinding the ordinance could be interpreted as a sign that Harrison County isn’t as proactive in protecting what we have here.