Fort Mill close to approving new LED sign requirement

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comAugust 19, 2013 

— Several zoning changes moved forward last week affecting electronic signs, building heights and staff decision-making in Fort Mill.

Fort Mill Town Council held public hearings on three ordinances Aug. 12. Two were then finalized, while another passed the first of town needed readings.

“Everything was approved or the first reading was accepted,” said Kimberly Starnes, town spokesperson.

One change now allows for buildings within 1,000 feet of the I-77 corridor, zoned highway commercial, to be up to 60 feet tall. Without the ordinance, 35 feet is the maximum height. The ordinance also clears up language from earlier revisions to zoning code.

“Broadly interpreted,” according to information sent from staff to Council prior to the decision, code stated that any building in a highway commercial district must conform to “every zoning district” in the book. That error is now removed.

Another zoning change sets a template for how certain boards – Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Historic Review Board and others – are set up and operate. Also impacted would be Town Council, zoning administrator and town attorney roles.

The changes better align those roles with what’s required of them by state law, but several rules like committee size, term length and residency requirements still would be made at the town level.

Passing first reading last week was a change for digital, LED signs. Currently, a sign has to be at least 100 feet from a residential district boundary. With the change, signs would have to be at least 150 feet from an actual residence.

The issue arose when Fort Mill Church of God looked to add a sign on its property. The church found out this past spring that one wouldn’t be allowed since its property has a residential zoning, though there isn’t a house within the 100 feet.

A variance request was unanimously denied by the Board of Zoning Appeals. The planning commission then voted unanimously not to approve the ordinance that came to Council. Staff recommended that if Council changes its sign rule, that it also include two more requirements that signs can’t change more often that every six seconds, and that gasoline price displays be allowed.

Similar town issues are moving forward from last week’s meeting. Past press time Monday, the town Board of Zoning Appeals held a public hearing on variance requests from the Fort Mill School District for the new Riverview Elementary School.

The district wants the new school to be just over 38 feet tall. It’s allowed at 35 feet now. Also requested are 30-foot light structures. Code allows up to 16 feet.

According to town staff information presented to the board, the intended changes are designed to “minimize the number of light fixtures on the property, provide adequate clearance for school buses and to accommodate for the architectural details” of the school.

In the application, the district notes that 30-foot light poles are “standard practice for schools” to allow bus clearance. The building height, the district says, is a result of design “conforming to neighborhood structures” in the community.

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