Limits on political, other temporary signs in Lexington County planned

tflach@thestate.comDecember 26, 2012 

DeLinda Ridings and Rachel Brown hold Kelly Payne signs along Sunset Boulevard in front of Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church in Lexington Tuesday. Many polling places in the Lexington area reported steady, but not overwhelming, voter turnout. Lexington, SC 6/8/10 Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com

THE STATE/ FILE PHOTO — The State/ file photo

— Limits on political and other temporary signs along Lexington County roads are taking shape amid questions on how well the restrictions will be obeyed.

It will not be easy to come up with common standards amid concern that campaigns, developers, neighborhood groups, homeowners and others will ignore them, officials said.

“The real issue is uniform enforcement of whatever is settled on,” said county planning director Charlie Compton, who is overseeing the effort to design limits.

It’s an effort to reduce roadside clutter, particularly at major intersections.

Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre calls the proliferation “sign blight.”

About 2,000 improperly placed signs are taken down annually in his community, officials estimate.

Policing the problem will be easier by “getting everyone on the same page” to reduce confusion about what’s permissible, county councilman Jim Kinard said.

Many of the county’s 13 municipalities have tougher controls than those in unincorporated areas.

Community leaders are pushing county officials to adopt similar controls to end misunderstanding about whose guidelines apply in the perimeter around often irregular municipal borders.

The changes seem likely to push many signs well off roads — at least 50 feet generally except in front yards of homes — while specifying permissible sizes in residential and commercial areas.

There’s interest in preventing candidates from putting up signs no earlier than two months before an election, but that idea may founder over freedom-of-speech concerns.

Current requirements that signs be taken down by a week after the ballot may be relaxed slightly to 10 days or so.

Any uniform guidelines adopted would go to local Republican and Democrat leaders along with smaller political groups to relay to candidates.

Some political leaders don’t favor the effort to force signs off roadsides.

Restrictions on location of campaign signs is overkill, county Republican chairman Steve Isom said.

“We’ve got a lot more important things to be dealing with and talking about,” he said. “If they think we control a lot of these things, we don’t.”

It may take a few elections for the problems to ease as campaigns often are overzealous in promotion, supporters of the push for controls said.

Dealing with the location of political signs is becoming an annual problem each fall as most municipal elections have shifted to odd years while national, statewide and county races remain in even years.

County leaders also are working with home builders and other commercial groups to settle on controls for signs touting new neighborhoods and other types of sales that sprout roadside on weekends.

Coming up with a common set of guidelines for nonpolitical signs is just as vital to reduce scenic pollution, officials said.

Those signs — sometimes hand-lettered on cardboard — make areas “look tacky,” Irmo mayor Hardy King said.

The influx of temporary signs is a headaches that county and municipal officials want to lessen.

“Problems with temporary signs are eating us up,” Compton said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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