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Signs get Gainesville officials thinking of rules
Citys ordinance limit options for electronic message boards
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The Gainesville City Council is taking a look at its sign ordinance and deciding whether to incorporate changes in technology.

The city's ordinance requires electronic message boards to use only amber LED lights, and the text can change, but it can't flash or scroll across the screen.

Council members approved the sign requirements as part of the 2004 comprehensive plan, but recent requests are making them reconsider the use of video and different colors.

"We're being flooded with this type of signage request with the technology available," said planning manager Matt Tate. "Some places, such as Gainesville Jewelry and CVS, are nonconforming but were grandfathered in. Others, such as the BP sign on Thompson Bridge Road, are not."

There are 37 electronic signs in Gainesville.

"We deal with sign companies daily, and it consumes our time," said Rusty Ligon, director of the Community Development Department that contains the planning office. "Our code restricts signs and lights that increase clutter and improves traffic safety by preventing signs that obstruct vision or confuse motorists."

When planning officials reviewed the city's sign ordinance last month, they found two signs that don't follow color requirements.

"If one sign is out of line, it's not really a problem, but if we don't address it, the nonconformity will begin to perpetuate," Ligon said. "Red and green lights will turn into orange and blue and purple."

In February, Lanier Charter Career Academy asked to place a high definition video sign on its property to publicize events and public safety alerts.

The school asked Gainesville's planning and appeals board for an exception to the color rule, but the planning board voted unanimously against the request.

The full-color sign, proposed to sit along Atlanta Highway, corresponds with the new digital marketing program offered at the career academy, which gives students the opportunity to use up-to-date marketing tools to learn marketing schemes and industry standards. It would advertise public events, AMBER alerts and other public safety concerns.

If the school brings forward the request again, council members may allow students to use the sign with restrictions on brightness and distance.

However, they don't yet want to overhaul the city's sign code.

"We need a standard and consistency," Mayor Ruth Bruner said.

At the same time, several council members want to stay reasonable and open to ideas.

"I don't want this community to get to the point where you have to get a permit to do anything," council member George Wangemann said. "It goes back to the philosophy that we shouldn't be nit picky and hinder creativity, especially for businesses during this economy."