The recent dismantling and removal of an 86-foot tall sign at the Citgo station on Washington Road, in Thomson, marked another successful step in the county’s plan to deal with abandoned signs.
“We’ve been working on that sign for two years,” said Gail Newsome, McDuffie County Code Enforcement Officer.
The Thomson-McDuffie Planning Board is continuing work begun by the McDuffie County Planning Board. The effort is to have property owners remove abandoned or dilapidated signs.
“We just noticed that our main thoroughfares are littered with abandoned signs so as a department we got with code enforcement and we’ve been identifying different signs that are abandoned and get them down,” said Chase Beggs, Thomson-McDuffie Planning and Zoning Administrator.
Beggs said if there is a business there, they will be allowed to reface the sign, repaint, and keep it maintained.
“That’s the first thing you see when you’re going down our main thoroughfares or in our main areas are these dilapidated signs,” said Newsome.
Beggs and Newsome said two property owners with these neglected signs have been contacted. All of those are in the county, not within the city. The property owner, whether local or living elsewhere, have the responsibility of maintaining or removing the signs. The county has identified 20 of these signs and some of the property owners have already been contacted.
“A lot of these signs that are there, that we’ve identified, the business has been closed for 15 years or the building has been demoed (demolished) and there’s a dilapidated pole that is damaged, and there’s noting there,” said Beggs.
“The way our ordinance reads is once the business has been closed for over a year, then if they don’t get somebody in there and reface that sign it has to come down. It’s not grandfathered forever.”
Examples around town include the old Heilig-Meyers sign and the sign for the former Langham’s Store.
“You’ll see a pole there,” said Newsome. “You’ll see the post up there with the sign and nothing’s there. It’s just empty.”
The one near Citgo was one of the larger signs targeted for removal. Another one area residents may remember, that is now removed, was the former Winn Dixie sign.
“It didn’t meet the current sign ordinance and it wasn’t kept up,” Beggs said.
That sign issue landed in court several times, Newsome said.
“And of course the individuals ended up having to pay fines and had a certain amount of days from the judge to have it down. So, that’s where it goes if they don’t comply,” Newsome said. “Citations are issued. They’re taken to court. There can be fines if they fail to comply. And if then they refuse to do so, they can even receive jail time.”
Both Beggs and Newsome said the county initially approaches the issue in a friendly manner in the beginning.
First, a property owner is given 30 days to remove a sign. Then, if the owner fails to remove the sign a citation is issued and the matter can then move into magistrate court
Newsome said there has been an overall emphasis on making sure people maintain their property, signs, and other elements to prevent blight.