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Forest Park wants time to amend ordinance

Agrees to 120-day moratorium on 'changeable' signs

The Forest Park City Council has imposed a 120-day moratorium on "changeable copy" signs to give members time to amend the billboard ordinance.

City Manager John Parker said the moratorium specifically targets the brightly-lit, LED and digital signs that have cropped up in the past few years.

"Our existing ordinance doesn't cover certain aspects of those types of signs," he said. "We want to tighten up the language, and this moratorium gives us time to do what needs to be done."

Existing signs will be grandfathered in, he said. However, the amended ordinance is expected to address how long those signs will be allowed to remain.

"We expect Council to do something feasible for the signs to remain for a period of time," he said. "After that, they will have to be brought into compliance."

Parker said signs that are placed in certain areas can pose problems for drivers. For example, red LED signs near railroad crossings can be confused with the light warning of an approaching train. Bright-white LED signs that suddenly pop into the view of a driver can cause temporary vision issues.

Not to mention they are unappealing aesthetically. For that reason, Edie Yongue, director of Keep Forest Park Beautiful, will be included in the discussions of the ordinance amendment, said Parker.

The city collects a permit fee for the signs and, because they are considered real property, the owners pay an ad valorem tax. But Parker said the revenue is minimal, especially because the signs are undervalued at tax time.

"We know how much it cost to construct one of those signs," he said. "It can cost $50,000 to $100,000. But the owners claim a lower value when it comes to taxing, sometimes as low as $20,000."

The city has even gone so far as to buy existing signs "just to get rid of them," said Parker.

In other city council action, members approved the first reading of an ordinance allowing the annexation of about 18 acres from unincorporated Clayton County into the city limits of Forest Park. Parker said the land is projected to be used as an energy park.

"Eight or nine months ago, the company was ready to go on the front end phase of the energy park," he said. "We have the money ready to get started, but didn't have a place to put it. We couldn't give an affirmative on the property at Fort Gillem because we didn't have a deal with the Army, yet."

Parker found an 18-acre tract at the southeastern boundary of Fort Gillem and bought it for the projected energy park. It's adjacent to the city limits, so it can easily be annexed into Forest Park, he said.

The city finalized the deal last month to buy Fort Gillem.

The energy park is still in the early phases of planning, but Parker said once it is completed, the end result will be a high-tech way to get rid of, and recycle, waste into viable products.

"It will be set up so there is nothing going into a landfill," said Parker. "It will completely eliminate the need for a landfill and generate enough income to sustain itself."