Winder council enacts new sign ordinance

WINDER - City Council members voted unanimously to pass a new sign ordinance Tuesday night.

Attorney Mark Scott addressed mayor Buddy Ouzts and the council with some background about the importance of updating the city's old ordinance. Scott consulted with city staff in drafting the new guidelines and has litigated cases in Roswell, where officials have battled for years to keep billboards out.

"We need to establish on record that we have a rational basis for having a sign ordinance," said Scott, who explained that the ordinance may be challenged in future years. Scott said sign ordinances are the most litigated areas of law in the southeast.

In his presentation, Scott talked about safety and aesthetics as being the two most important considerations in drafting a new ordinance. Winder's old ordinance, which was repealed Tuesday night, has areas that could today be considered unconstitutional based on recent court decisions.

"We don't want to infringe on anyone's right to advertise their business," Scott said.

The new sign ordinance attempts to promote economic development through the uses of signs as well as protect the environment and public safety. Scott referred to the case in Snellville several years ago in which a billboard under construction collapsed and killed three construction workers. The newly drafted ordinance also allows for a smoother and faster application process.

Types of signs that are prohibited under the new ordinance include gas-filled figures and balloons, beacons, lasers and searchlights, tri-vision signs (those with rotating slats which change messages periodically) and electronic or animated signs. Abandonment of or failure to maintain a sign is also prohibited.

Not included in this new ordinance is the requiring of a "fall-zone," or an area around the sign that must remain clear in case of collapse. Scott suggested that city officials may want to include that provision in a future ordinance.

The new sign ordinance went into effect Tuesday.

Number of housing

permits down from 2006

The number of housing permits issued in Winder in the first three months of this year is down considerably from the same time period in 2006. Ouzts commented that Winder is experiencing the same decline that Barrow county and the rest of the country are experiencing.

"It's a startling problem," Ouzts said.

Rezoning request denied

City Council members voted to uphold the Winder Planning Commission's recommendation to decline a rezoning request for property located at 153 West Candler St. Jennie Williams, who inherited the property, asked that the .42 acres be rezoned for commercial use, planning to locate her real estate office in a house already on the land.

The Planning Commission recommended denial of the rezoning, citing "spot zoning" as the reason. The council agreed that rezoning the property would set a precedent for similar zoning discrepancies.