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Albany ordinance may ban some attention-getting signs

Officials say some advertisements distract motorists, pose danger

“Human signs” and others attention-getting advertisements that are considered distractions to motorists may be banned in Albany when the city updates its sign ordinance. (Herald file photo)

“Human signs” and others attention-getting advertisements that are considered distractions to motorists may be banned in Albany when the city updates its sign ordinance. (Herald file photo)

ALBANY — Attention-getting signs that distract drivers on city streets are among the confirmed targets of the city’s Planning Department as Albany officials prepare to upgrade the city’s sign ordinance.

Planning Director Paul Forgey said at a sign ordinance task force meeting Thursday that he intends to recommend rotating signs, people in and out of costume that stand along rights-of-way and “rope lights” that simulate motion be included among signs no longer allowed in the city.

“Aesthetics are important, but my primary concern is distraction of motorists,” Forgey said. “Traffic safety is something that’s quantifiable. We have to balance the individual benefit — or detriment — of signs that are allowed with the community benefit or detriment.”

Businessman Lane Rosen supported Forgey’s call to ban so-called human signs.

“Those guys on the street are eyesores, but more than that they are dangerous,” Rosen said.

Forgey did say that he would not recommend a ban on banners, streamers or balloons used at car dealerships to attract attention.

“I personally don’t like them, but the car dealers do,” he said. “If the public has a problem with them, we’ll address that at another time.”

Forgey and Planning Services Senior Manager Tracy Hester said the task force, and subsequently the city/county Planning Commission and the Albany City Commission, would address the amortization element that was written into the city’s sign ordinance when it was passed in 2009. Under that element of the ordinance, owners of all non-conforming signs had until 2012 to justify that existing signs had economic value or they would be ordered to take them down.

Forgey admitted that there had been little adherence to that portion of the ordinance.

“Everyone kind of agreed that that was a good idea on the front end,” Hester said. “But the reality was that it was burdensome on the back end.”

In a discussion of historic signs, Forgey said the task force needs to consider a number of issues before offering suggestions that might become a permanent part of city law.

“We need to be consistent before we draw the line,” the planning director said. “We need a clear definition of what constitutes a historic sign, we need to determine if a business should be allowed to reconstruct or re-erect a historic sign, and we need to consider whether a sign remains a historic part of the community if it is moved from its original location.”

Forgey suggested that the city ordinance define historic signs as those that are 50 years or older, remain pretty much the same as they were when first erected and that there be documentation proving they meet the requirements.

Barbara Rivera Holmes with the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission suggested — and members of the task force agreed — that the 50-year time frame should “float” and not be restricted to current ordinance language that designates “signs that existed on or before Jan. 1, 1964” as historic.

“The 50 years should continue to expand as time passes,” Holmes said.

Former Dougherty County Commissioner Muarlean Edwards asked the task force to consider special situations such as one brought to her by the owner of the Maryland Fried Chicken business on U.S. Highway 82. A new sign being considered by the business exceeds the maximum allowable square footage of the ordinance, making it non-compliant.

Hester said that’s the kind of issue that would require a variance under the current sign ordinance.

Forgey also said Planning wants to discuss increasing fees for sign permits, which currently come with a 50 cents per-square-foot charge that maxes at $40 per sign.