Its pretty much assumed that most people, driving along Washington Road between Augusta and Evans, arent expecting swaying trees and sunlight-drenched meadows. Not since a golf driving range was bulldozed nearly three decades ago to make way for West Town Shopping Center has Martinez held much picturesque scenery.
Instead, Columbia Countys primary retail corridor has become, in most cases, an ungainly hodgepodge of flashing signs and overhead utility lines. Nature intrudes only in rare instances, such as the surviving pecan trees at the edge of the West Town parking lot.
Just about every square inch of the Washington Road corridor already is occupied, however, so new businesses - especially, lately, auto dealers - have pushed out into Evans. As they do so, those businesses are running into resistance as the gaudy Martinez model collides with tougher Evans town center sign ordinances.
County officials are now under pressure from two directions: Business owners want the sign ordinances relaxed, especially those that tightly restrict the size of signs in the Evans town center district. And many residents fear any loosening of those rules will simply cascade Martinez unsightly commercial sprawl into a broader area of the county.
Small portions of the rules are getting much-needed revisions: The countys regulation of flags is restrictive to the point of silliness, and as a result enforcement is on hold. Meanwhile, the proliferation of electronic flashing signs is leading to an overdue crackdown. Lakeside High School was even forced to switch off its newly acquired sign because of stepped-up enforcement.
Where is all this headed? County officials, such as Planning Director Jeff Browning, say the enforcement efforts will help fight clutter while improving the safety of easily distracted motorists. And business owners, such as Patty Wagon restaurant operator Bill Hensley, just hope for fair and equitable treatment.
Residents concerned about commercial creep must make sure their elected officials know whose community is being protected. Business owners rightly make their views known when they feel the laws are too strict; residents should be equally adamant in letting commissioners know if they believe those laws need to be tougher.
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