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Jonesborough sign ordinances to be revamped

A request from a local business owner to put a sign up on his building has town leaders looking at rewriting their policies.
Matthew Epling, owner of The Medicine Shoppe, 1238 E. Jackson Blvd., asked the Jonesborough Planning Commission for permission to put a sign on the east-facing side of his building that advertises the business’ drive-thru. The sign would also include the business’ logo.
While the business already has a freestanding monument sign out front and other signage on the building itself, Epling argued the additional sign should be allowed since he used a smaller freestanding sign than the maximum allowed by the town.
“We allow a 100-square-foot limit for a building,” said Town Administrator Bob Browning. “We allow some flexibility by saying this is a tradeoff (for the smaller freestanding sign).”
Tom Foster, of Foster Signs and a member of the Planning Commission, spoke on behalf of Epling. He explained to fellow commission members that the business was originally approved for 109.6 square feet for a side of the building, but had to reduce it because a gutter was in the way.
“Everything we are asking for right now is 124.99 square feet,” Foster said. “We’re only asking for 15.39 more square feet than what we originally asked for.”
The new drive-thru sign is 31.35 square feet, the size Foster and Epling believe is best suited for motorists to see while traveling on the Highway 11E.
“I do think on 11E there is some consideration on it. At 45 miles per hour, you should have a certain size sign just to be able to be seen,” Browning said. “Speed should be a reality in it. As a business owner, it becomes a matter of being able to advertise the business.”
During another business request at the same meeting, Foster compared Jonesborough to other municipalities.
“We’re not consistent on our signage at all,” Foster said. “We’re basing it on trade this, trade that. I would like to see us rewrite the whole code.”
In comparing the sign regulations in Jonesborough to those in Johnson City, Browning called what is allowed in the neighboring city as far as signage “overkill.”
Alderman Terry Countermine agreed.
“I’d rather fuss and discuss than have that,” he said. “Driving into Jonesborough is a lot nicer-looking than driving into Johnson City.”
Still, commission members agreed they needed to look at changing the way building signage requirements are calculated.
“We need to come through and fix the criteria so we have some consistency in how we operate,” Browning said. “I think there is a balance in there.”
Town Attorney Jim Wheeler warned members of the Planning Commission consistency is a top priority in their decision-making process.
“You’ve had one fairly recently where you turned down signage on the side of the building,” he said. “Every time you consider one of these, you’ve got somebody pointing to the one you did just before them. I would caution you that you need to be consistent.”
Once again, Countermine agreed.
“Fairness and consistency is critical,” he said. “I wouldn’t vote for it unless I was assured other people weren’t going to come back and say we treated The Medicine Shoppe differently than we treated them.”
Countermine cited a recent decision made by the Planning Commission where members voted against a variance on sign size.
“The one we turned down, there wasn’t a (freestanding) sign that they could even trade off with,” he said. “So does that make it so they can start with zero square feet (and make an even bigger sign for the building itself)?”
After much discussion, Planning Commission member Ted Lynch made a motion to allow Epling to put up the drive-thru portion of his sign, but not the business logo. The logo can be added later, after the Planning Commission makes changes to its ordinances to allow for the additional square footage.
Members emphasized a need to make those regulatory changes as soon as possible, with their intent to address it at their upcoming July meeting.