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City Council poised to dim animated signs

The sign at Flooring America on U.S. 64 near I-26, advertising Toys for Tots this week, is one of the new animated signs in the city. The sign at Flooring America on U.S. 64 near I-26, advertising Toys for Tots this week, is one of the new animated signs in the city.

Electronic signs can wipe, swivel, rotate, shrink and turn but they’re not going to be allowed to be quite so animated if the Hendersonville City Council adopts a zoning rewrite.

Besides all the fancy acrobatics animated signs can do, distracting and annoying are two words offended motorists and neighbors use to describe them.
Animated signs of varying degrees of movement are more common than one night think. The city Development Assistance Department counted 25 in the commercial zones where they’re allowed — Spartanburg Highway, Asheville Highway and U.S. 64 East in the Walmart area, said Susan Frady, the department’s director.
As the signs began to proliferate, the City Council took notice, slapping a 60-day moratorium on new permits on Sept. 5 and directing the planning staff and Planning Board to tighten the rules. The city Planning Board endorsed the changes after a subcommittee of Jim Robertson, Jon Blatt and Steve Orr studied the regulatory options. The city’s Business Advisory Committee reviewed the changes Monday and endorsed them with one recommended change. The proposed changes:
• Allow an animated sign to take up half the total space of a 70-square-foot sign, or 35 square feet, roughly the size of a standard sheet of plywood.
• Images may not flash, animate or scroll when they transition from one message to the next.
• Transitions can last no longer than three-tenths of a second.
• Brightness can be no greater than 500 nits (a measure of light) at night and 5,000 nits during the day.
• An animated sign within 100 feet of a residential zone could operate only from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Although the signs could change only every 20 seconds under the amendment the Planning Board endorsed, the business leaders recommended the interval be changed to 8 seconds, a fairly common length of time among cities that regulate animated signs.
Planner Tyler Morrow presented the findings of his research of nearby cities. Mills River requires messages to remain fixed for at least 8 seconds and allows an animated sign to cover 40 percent of the surface total. Laurel Park allows only time and temperature signs. Flat Rock bars them. The western Piedmont town of Conover has strict limits, capping the nighttime brightness at 150 nits (compared to the more common 500) and allowing the message to change after 5 minutes.
The city changes, if adopted, will apply to newly permitted signs only, not existing ones. Even so, Frady said her department plans to ask owners of signs with intense brightness and robust animation to voluntarily comply. “The pastor at Ebenezer Baptist, as soon as he read about this, said, ‘Whatever you adopt I’ll be glad to comply with,’” she said.
“The larger they are, the brighter they are and the more obnoxious they are,” said Robertson, who attended the business advisory meeting. “They’re sort of in your face as you’re driving down the road. I think we draw a lot of our tourism because of the quaintness of our community. Yes, we’re growing but do we really want our entry corridors littered with flashing, spinning, jumping at you type of advertising.”
Robertson said he could accept the business advisers’ recommendation to allow more frequent message changes.
“In fact, the 20-second interval in retrospect honestly was probably a little too restrictive,” he said. “That’s static. If it starts spinning and jumping after 8 seconds that’s different.”