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County imposes sign moratorium

By Ed Brock

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners has approved a moratorium on permits for new signs in the county that will last until they approve a new sign zoning ordinance.

Passed during Tuesday's regular commission meeting, Resolution No. 2004-76 imposes the moratorium on permit applications for the construction of any sign with an area of more than 100 square feet and 20 feet high. The moratorium is effective immediately and will expire after six months unless the county's new land use plan and zoning ordinance are approved before that time.

The land use plan should be sent to the state for approval in October, Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said, and the commission should get it back shortly thereafter.

"We need to go ahead and finish our land use plan, get it approved and we'll open it back up," Bray said.

News of the moratorium did not go over well with Jan Shaw, a salesperson at Sta-Brite Signs & Awnings on Stockbridge Road just outside Jonesboro. Having been in business since 1968, the company has weathered other moratoriums before, and the company does have customers outside the county.

"After a few months everything is back to normal," Shaw said.

But even when the moratorium ends it usually is followed by permanent changes.

"When they stop everything and come back you usually get less (space allowances)," Shaw said.

Smaller signs may be more aesthetically pleasing for some, Shaw said, but they aren't good for businesses because they become harder for customers to find.

Though his company services signs more than it builds new signs, D&G Outdoor Lighting & Signs Inc. owner Donovan Swafford said the moratorium will affect him as well.

"That's going to affect every sign company around," Swafford said. "I'm really shocked that they're trying to pull that one off."

The moratorium does not apply to approvals or permits issued before the approval of the moratorium. It also makes provisions for "vesting," as defined by the Supreme Court case of Cannon v. Clayton County.

Vesting is defined in the ordinance as "where a landowner makes a substantial change in position by expenditures and reliance on the probability of the issuance of a building permit, based upon an existing zoning ordinance and the assurances of zoning officials."

To prove vesting the property owner must complete an application that includes verified supporting data, documents and facts and submit that for review by the commission during one of its scheduled meetings.

The Forest Park City Council will also consider imposing a moratorium on sign permits during a special called meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. today at City Hall.