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Commissioners approve Forsyth County sign code change

Forsyth County commissioners have adopted a new sign code, and it looks like only three signs in the county will be upgraded, with three others coming down for good.

At a special called meeting on Friday, commissioners voted 5-0 to adopt changes to the county’s sign ordinance that will allow only a company the county is settling litigation with, Diamond Outdoor, to upgrade signs by removing others. The settlement was also approved at the meeting.

Previously, the county had discussed a policy to allow signs to be upgraded if others were taken down and looked at a cap and trade system to allow sign owners to transfer credits toward upgrades.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard indicated an agreement could not be reached between the county and the majority of sign owners. 

With the change, owners can only upgrade billboards to electronic message boards if they meet all of the following requirements: a request was put in before Nov. 17, 2016; upgrades can only occur through a settlement; settlement agreements can be for more than one sign; settlements must identify which signs will be upgraded; construction of the sign must be with 1,000 feet from the one it is replacing; the settlement must have a net reduction in signs; and the settlement must have been approved before July 17.

“I don’t know how to tighten it down any tighter than that, but I think it is very clear that what this authorizes is you to implement the settlement agreement … and that’s all,” Jarrard said.

Jarrard said the only thing left from the county’s previous rules was allowing signs to be lowered if a vegetation permit was granted by the state.

A sign along the west side of Keith Bridge Road (Hwy. 306) at the southeast corner of the intersection with Browns Bridge Road (Hwy. 369 east) can be upgraded within 1,000 feet and a sign on Dahlonega Highway (Hwy. 9) at the northwest corner of the intersection with Matt Highway (Hwy. 369 west) can be upgraded within 500 feet.

Another sign owned by Diamond Outdoor slightly to the north of the Dahlonega Highway/Matt Highway sign will be taken down, along with another sign at the intersection of Dahlonega Highway and Mountain Road. A sign will also be taken down on Buford Highway (Hwy. 20 east) south of the intersection with Holly Court. 

As part of the settlement, a sign on Buford Highway will also be upgraded and all litigation, except that sign, which will not have a monetary settlement, will be dismissed.

Diamond Outdoor also agreed to pay $12,000 for a new Coal Mountain monument sign.

Since Friday’s meeting was a special called meeting, the vote was effective immediately and will not have to wait until a regular meeting, which is the case for items approved work sessions.

When asked by commissioners, Jarrard said he felt the change would stand up to possible litigation from other sign owners.

“I don’t believe there is a right for them to upgrade,” he said. “I’ve never believed there was a constitutional right for them to upgrade. I think that’s true ... I think they’d like to upgrade. Remember … upgrading as a right was available in most of the county up until Nov. 16, 2016. So, a lot of the signs that were most obvious candidates for upgrade, they did it already.”