There has always been a bone in my throat regarding the billboard on Industrial Park Drive at Washington Road.
It isn't that I don't like billboards (I don't), but the fact that the billboard was so cleverly sneaked in as the last billboard in the Evans Town Center Overlay District.
The ETCOD is the set of dressed-up zoning rules that were supposed to turn Evans into our own quaint version of something like Augusta's Surrey Center. About 15 minutes after those rules were approved, we instead got the big-box trifecta of Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Home Depot - not exactly the essence of town-center quaintness.
That billboard? It isn't allowed under the current sign ordinances governing the Evans Town Center. But just days before those ordinances were approved, the owner applied for a sign permit and was grandfathered in. Shazam; the last billboard in the town center, right smack in the middle of Quaintown, USA.
But wait! There's more!
This past week I was a little startled to see a mini-billboard rising in that "last" billboard's shadow, like a metal seedling from an ugly tree.
It's erected under a permit as a sign for MBH Holdings, the office-park property that surrounds Stonecrest Steakhouse. County officials helpfully tracked down all the information and assurances that the sign is legal, perhaps creatively, because of the unusual way that chunk of property appears on the tax books.
How nifty. Oh, and it isn't a "billboard," they explain, because the two (yes, two)signs on the pole are too small. But it is a sign, on a pole. And it looks like a duck-quacking billboard to me.
Meanwhile, around the corner from that site is the still mostly vacant Marshall Square property. A decision by the planning and zoning board last week means much of the site will remain vacant, at least until April.
The four-year-old plans for the site have always included apartments, but recently the developer proposed making changes to those apartments.
Those early plans called for mixing the apartments with condominiums, and putting many of the apartments on the second floor of retail space downtown-style.
Unfortunately, the economy has taken a significant turn since then. As a result, the condos and the second-floor apartments are out, replaced by a plan for freestanding apartment buildings. The number of residential spaces isn't any higher; it's just reconfigured on the interior of the property.
But making those changes meant taking the plan back to planning and zoning for review. That's where, last Thursday, commissioners decided to sit on it.
One of the real estate professionals associated with the project called me to raise Cain about the delay, insinuating that county officials put on the brakes because they have an anti-business attitude.
Yeah, I thought that was pretty funny, too.
What's hurting Marshall Square is this: In an effort to play nice, the developers have always been very open about the plans for the project and have welcomed input from its residential neighbors, especially from the nearby Northwoods subdivision.
As a result, it seems some of those neighbors have the impression that they are entitled to near veto power with the project - and county officials don't have the guts to tell them otherwise.
I look at it this way: If Evans has any chance at all of getting the "quaint" town center promised in the Evans Town Center Overlay District, Marshall Square is it.
Besides; at least the developers aren't planning to slap up another strip mall. And whatever they build undoubtedly will be an improvement compared to the dilapidated buildings and illegally dumped debris that once littered the site.
It's time to let these folks get on with their business. And that might mean everyone else minding theirs.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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