For residents of Columbia County who just got here - and that would include the nearly 25,000 who have moved to the county since 1990 - this might be hard to believe:
The county's streets used to be far more uglied up with signs.
Anyone who has driven through the hyper-cluttered Washington Road corridor in Martinez might doubt that it's possible for parts of the county to be more unsightly.
But it's true. And skeptics, especially county officials, might need a little history lesson in that regard - especially as they start pondering amendments to the county's sign ordinances.
It was 20 years ago this October that a divided Columbia County Commission approved a revamped sign ordinance designed to clean up the county's commercial areas.
Among the high points of that ordinance were the outlawing of portable, moveable-letter signs, restrictions on banners and temporary signs, and a ban on inflated advertisements such as those blown-up gorillas on used-car lots.
The changes since then, while sometimes slow, have been tremendous and positive - and, to no one's surprise, the tougher rules resulted in none of the financial gloom predicted at the time by business owners opposed to the cleanup.
Yes, there is still far too much clutter, especially in Martinez. But that mess was here before the ordinance went into effect, and was allowed to stay because of non-compliant signs had to be "grandfathered." Commercial areas developed since then are a vast aesthetic improvement, and those businesses' continuing growth and success are ringing proof that the tougher rules haven't stifled commerce.
Two decades later, perhaps removed by time and context from those forward-thinking amendments, county officials are now discussing relaxing some parts of the county's sign ordinance - particularly the portions dealing with portable or temporary signs or banners.
The best advice: Go slowly. These rules have been in place for a long time, and are only now beginning to pay off as those old signs gradually die off. In fact, these restrictions have stood the test of time so long that of the five commissioners in office when they were enacted, just two are still alive.
Officials currently in office should keep that in mind as they review these rules left for them to enforce: Good laws stay in place long after those who remember why they were enacted in the first place are gone. As with the U.S. Constitution, it's up to those who inherit those laws to tread carefully when suggesting amendments.
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