‘Walking sign’ rules on hold pending poll of local businesses

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New restrictions on the use of “walking signs” in Peachtree City were put on hold by the city council at its meeting Thursday.

City staff was asked to look at creating an exception for non-profits and also to poll businesses on their current and potential future use of handheld “walking” signs.

But a majority of council appears set on instituting the new rules, with some significant concern about the potential for the hand-held signs to proliferate.

“My personal preference is to have an outright ban,” said Councilwoman Kim Learnard, citing the “dignity and spirit and intent” that makes Peachtree City unique. But Learnard said she was willing to agree to the compromise that put restrictions on the use of walking signs.

“Whereas right now we have two, three, maybe five businesses so advertising, in a year from now it could be 10 times that many and we have no restrictions on that,” Learnard said.

Councilwoman Vanessa Fleisch said she too was concerned with the potential for a future spike in the use of walking signs.
Councilman Eric Imker was the driving force behind the delay, asking city staff to poll local businesses to determine if they either use walking signs or plan to use walking signs.

The difference, he said, was that if a handful of businesses use it, that’s one thing, but “if we find out another 20-30 businesses want to do this, I think we have a problem in the city with the image we’d be creating.”

The restrictions under consideration would limit businesses to using walking signs no more than four times a year and up to five days at a time. Also, the rules would restrict the signs to be held by one person only, and the sign-holder must be located on the premises where the business is located.

The rules also spell out that the sign can be no more than six square feet in size, and the sign must not be thrown or spun to attract attention.

As to an exception for non-profit groups, it is possible the argument could be made that non-profit fundraisers — such as car washes and bake sales — are typically one-time events with little opportunity for sufficient promotion in advance.

While that wasn’t mentioned at the meeting, there is some significant sentiment on council to make some form of exception for non-profit groups if possible.

Businesses will be receiving a survey from the city in the next two weeks that will include a question about their current and future usage of walking signs, city officials said. Those results are expected to be shared with council at the May 19 meeting when the regulations will be brought back for consideration.

Imker also asked city staff to look into whether the city legally can restrict the number of businesses using walking signs per day to say five or so.

“My gut tells me no, we couldn’t do that, but I’d want to confirm it,” replied City Attorney Ted Meeker.

Councilman Doug Sturbaum also wanted more feedback from city staff on the location requirements.

The location restrictions would hurt the walking sign used by The Picnic Basket restaurant, which has the permission of Hella to deploy its walking sign along the intersection of Ga. Highway 54 and Kelly Drive. Under the new rules, the restaurant would be limited to advertising on its property off Kelly Drive, which is not visible from the highway.

Debbie Sanders, the owner of The Picnic Basket and the nearby Curves gym, told council that the on-property limitation would constitute an effective walking sign “ban” for her business.

“I don’t have a high-visibility location for a lot of traffic and cars to come in,” Sanders said.

She argued that while she has used several types of print advertising, they are expensive, while the walking sign drives customers to her restaurant without a doubt. Sanders said she polls her customers to find out why they decided to come by.

“I can attribute about 45 percent of my daily customers to this sign because I ask every single one of them that comes in the door: ‘How did you hear about us?’” Sanders said.

Sanders also noted that no residents spoke in favor of the ordinance, leading her to question where the complaints about walking signs were coming from.

Mayor Don Haddix assured Sanders that he has gotten a number of complaints on the matter.

In asking for the delay, Imker said he didn’t want to make a rushed decision that could drastically affect someone’s business.

“I’m not in a hurry to see somebody go out of business because we make a rash decision,” Imker said.

City Manager Jim Pennington said similar restrictions have been adopted in other communities in which he has worked, and in some cases other cities have had non-profit groups challenge the walking signs in court.

The goal, Pennington said, is finding the balance, acknowledging that the economy is challenging “but we also have to protect the city and its appearance and the quality of life.”

Mike Healy, the owner of Mike and C’s restaurant, asked if the city would be applying the new walking sign rules to politicians and those seeking office. He was told that a recent Georgia law struck down the city’s ability to restrict political speech.

Healy also suggested grandfathering in existing businesses and implementing the restrictions only on new businesses. But Meeker noted that could be a significant hindrance to enforcement since it would be difficult for the city to keep track of when a particular business opened, for example.

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1st online version

New restrictions on the use of “walking signs” in Peachtree City were put on hold by the city council tonight (Thursday, April 7).

Councilman Eric Imker was the driving force behind the delay, asking city staff to poll local businesses to determine

if they either use walking signs or plan to use walking signs. The difference, he said, was that if a handful of businesses use it, that’s one thing … but if 30 or so either do so or plan to, that’s yet another matter.

Several council members said they were concerned about a proliferation of the hand-held signs, which some businesses argue are the difference between success and failure.

The restrictions under consideration would limit businesses to using walking signs no more than four times a year and up to five days at a time. Also, the rules would restrict the signs to be held by one person only, and the sign-holder must be located on the premises where the business is located.

That would hurt the walking sign used by The Picnic Basket restaurant, which has the permission of Hella to deploy its walking sign along the intersection of Ga. Highway 54 and Kelly Drive. Under the new rules, the restaurant would be limited to advertising on its property off Kelly Drive, which is not visible from the highway.

Debbie Sanders, the owner of The Picnic Basket and the nearby Curves gym, told council that the on-property limitation would constitute an effective walking sign “ban” for her business.

“I don’t have a high-visibility location for a lot of traffic and cars to come in,” Sanders said.

She argued that other forms of print advertising are expensive although she has used some, but the walking sign drives customers to her restaurant without a doubt. Sanders said she knows this because she polls her customers to find out why they decided to come by.

“I can attribute about 45 percent of my daily customers to this sign because I ask every single one of them that comes in the door: ‘How did you hear about us?'” Sanders said.