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Covington to reduce size of new signage
Citizen questions retreat location; city would have to pay $4,000 to cancel retreat
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To end the propagation of gigantic teeth along Washington Street, Covington is amending its sign ordinance to cut the size of future commercial signs in half.

Many residents consider the multiple, large dental signs on Washington Street an eyesore and city officials have agreed that they don’t want to see any more. Two of the signs measure 110 and 117 square feet, but under a proposed ordinance amendment, new signs couldn’t be more than 80 square feet.

“When the teeth signs were first installed, all of the sudden we started getting calls. People believed they had been slipped in, because they couldn’t possibly meet the ordinance, but they did. Then a (dental) competitor moved in next door and leased properties, and now all of the sudden we have six big teeth signs,” Vinson said. “We knew were going to be bombarded with even more phone calls and the council members said we need to do something.”

Currently, signs in mixed-use commercial corridors can be 15 feet high and have a sign face of 120 square feet; the Krystal restaurant on U.S. Highway 278 is 120 square feet.
The amendment would allow signs to be only 8 feet high and the face would be limited to 80 square feet; the Applebee’s sign on U.S. 278 is an example of an 80 square feet sign, though it’s higher.

Existing signs that are larger will be grandfathered into the new ordinance. The faces or aesthetics of these larger signs can be changed, but no structural changes can be made, otherwise the sign would have to be taken down and meet the new ordinance.

The Covington City Council approved the first reading of the amendment change Monday. Mixed-use commercial corridors include U.S. 278, the Access Road, Turner Lake Road, the Bypass Road and parts of Washington Street and Ga. Highway 36.

Planning Director Randy Vinson said the ordinance change will make all commercial corridors consistent; the Bypass Corridor already had these sign restrictions because of the Bypass Corridor Overlay that was written in 2006.

Vinson said the entire city zoning ordinance was changed in 2008, and the sign component was probably just an oversight because of the intensity of rewriting the whole ordinance.
For shopping centers, or lots containing building greater than 65,000 square feet, the signs face sizes were lowered from 200 square feet to 150 square feet. Vinson said the larger sizes are because each sign typically advertises several businesses in a shopping center area. The changers were made based on a survey of existing signs, to ensure that the smaller signs would still be effective for advertising without being obtrusive.

Retreat Revisited
County resident Chris Jueschke asked the city council to reflect on their decision to take a retreat to Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa. To illustrate his point he brought a small, handheld mirror and showed it to each council member.

“All of you have excellent and well earned reputations and have accepted the thankless task as well as the honor of public service as elected officials,” Jueschke said. “I’m here tonight to ask you, really to beg you, not to throw it away over a picky but highly symbolic issue. All of you have years of experience in advertising, sales and marketing and you all know from experience that symbolism trumps substance every time.

“North Georgia Conference Center, Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa. Utility, luxury. It doesn’t matter if these facilities have the exact same amenities and costs, the name symbolizes they’re different. The city council has made a very naïve error in judging the location of the planning retreat.”

Jueschke asked them to move the retreat to a local, less expensive area, so that the council member’s reputations are not tarnished.

“The alternative is to stand by the original decision regardless of the consequences, and have the entire term of service be remembered and characterized as a city council that went to a posh resort on the taxpayers’ dollar.”

Councilman Mike Whatley, who was on the committee that originally chose the location and voted in favor of the retreat, said he had considered switching locations, but it was too late. When he checked into cancelling the reservations at Brasstown, he was informed the city would have to pay a $4,000 cancellation fee.

“We might have gotten back $130 for our efforts. I don’t think that would be too smart either. Perception is everything, and it could have been handled differently, (but a) retreat is not a vacation,” Whatley said.

After hearing that Jueschke said the decision to sign that kind of contract with Brasstown appeared to be a poor one.

City Manager Steve Horton said the contract was signed at the end of December, about 10 days after the retreat was approved by the city council at their Dec. 21 meeting.

Pat Griggs, director of conference services for Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa, said in a Wednesday morning phone interview that the exact cancellation fee for Covington was $3,924. He said the cancellation is different for each group and is based on the number of rooms that have been booked.

Covington has set aside seven rooms for March 17, 15 rooms for March 18 and 15 rooms for March 19. Griggs said they have to fill at least 90 percent of those rooms according to the contract. Therefore, even if some council members or staff protested and said they wanted to stay somewhere besides Brasstown, they wouldn’t save the city money, Griggs said.

While individuals can cancel a reservation seven or more days in advance, groups cannot cancel within 90 days of a reservation. Griggs said this is because Brasstown can’t replace the business in less time than that. If the contract was signed Dec. 21, Covington never would have been able to cancel the retreat.

Griggs said the Covington group has just reserved rooms. They have not paid ahead of time for any food or beverage. He said the conference room the group will be using is complimentary for a group that reserves a block of rooms.