Committee looks at banner policy

After numerous complaints to Chesterfield’s Board of Supervisors concerning violations by business owners who put up banners in front of their businesses, Chairman Art Warren instructed planning staff to form a committee to address enforcement of possible violations.

The banner committee, facilitated by Greg Allen, Chesterfield’s planning manager, met for the second time last week to continue the discussion on the temporary signs.  

Sign complaints (1385) are second only to weeds (1658) reported to the county’s code enforcement group. One man, Robert Olsen, is responsible for many of those complaints because he says the code enforcement department is not getting the job done.

“The complaints wouldn’t be there if staff would do their job,” Olsen said. “A lot of those complaints are on the same violation. Staff is not the solution, staff is the problem.”
Businesses must get a permit to place a banner in front of their business or at the front of the shopping center where their business is located.

According to the sign ordinance relating to individual businesses, “Banners advertising special promotions may be displayed an individual maximum of 30 consecutive days per banner, and a cumulative maximum of 60 days during a calendar year on the same property.”

Most businesses comply with the banner policy that falls under the sign ordinance. These policies have not been reviewed or edited since the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce in its infancy, 8-years-ago, worked with the county to develop a policy, which they thought was fair and equitable.  

Roger Habeck, who was instrumental in pushing through the banner policy as one of the chamber’s first government affairs projects, was working to keep the county from completely eliminating banners while also eliminating portable-changeable message signs. The chamber’s efforts resulted in some of the regulations that Olsen says aren’t being enforced.

Ted Barclay, planning administrator, said that his department of eight inspectors can only respond to complaints because Chesterfield’s code enforcement group works on a complaint-based system and there are 6277 complaints that his office must investigate each year.

“After working on these [citizen] complaints there’s not enough time left to proactively enforce the code,” Barclay said. “It takes six man hours to resolve a typical violation, but this is all violations not just signs.”

The committee, composed of 23 members including businesspersons, sign company representatives and citizens are reviewing the policy and brainstorming how the policy should be changed or enforced going forward.

Ralph Carter, a Chester businessman, said the banners should be self regulating and concluded that the banners should fall under freedom of speech.

Bill Baker, who agreed with Carter, said that those who make the complaint should pay a fee each time they complain.

“I find it very interesting that the Tea Party people on the committee are very selective in their fervor for freedom of speech,” Olsen said. “But the first thing they want to do is restrict the freedom of someone to make a complaint.”

The next banner committee meeting will take place in the planning department conference room in the Community Development building on the county complex on Friday, Dec. 16 at 9 a.m.

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