Business owners concerned over Putnam sign rules

Lynne Fruth, of Teays Valley, is chairwoman and president of Fruth Pharmacy.

Some business owners in Putnam County want the county to change its sign ordinance, saying it’s “overreaching” and hurts their business.

Lynne Fruth, president and board chairman for Fruth Pharmacy, told county commissioners last month that she has received several letters regarding a non-compliant electronic sign outside her store in Scott Depot.

Under the county’s 21-page ordinance for signs in unincorporated areas, “changeable copy” signs outside of businesses are permitted to “change static copy no more than eight times per day.” However, public and private schools are permitted to change copy “no more than every eight seconds,” according to the ordinance.

Fruth said she can only change her sign’s message eight times a day, whereas a local school could change its sign 10,800 times a day.

“It’s about equity,” Fruth said in a phone interview. “As a business person, it seems to be not very business friendly. And we’re very blessed to have a great business community here.”

Fruth printed pictures for commissioners last week of several national chain retailers in the area that she believes do not adhere to the sign requirements. Fruth said the policies for various types of businesses and schools seem “inconsistent” and confusing.

“I’m not offended by them — that’s marketing,” she said. “We have about 30 stores in 23 jurisdictions and I can tell you Putnam County is the only place I have issues with signs of any type. Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky — nobody else has busted my chops about signs.”

Larry Call, who owns Call’s Meat Market in Teays Valley, said he has received letters about a flag outside his store.

“Each day, I put it up in the morning and I take it down in the evening. Then I get these letters saying I’m in violation of the rules,” he told the commissioners. “Measure me on the same stick as everybody else. There’s signs all over Putnam County — just measure me the same as you do everyone else.”

Call told the commissioners not having his flag out could mean a difference in $500 worth of business for him in one weekend.

“I put the sign up and this guy came up who lives within a mile and said ‘I didn’t even realize you were in business,’” he said. “To me, a couple hundred dollars a day as a small business makes a difference.”

Timothy Smith, the county’s new planning director, said a subcommittee of the planning commission has been meeting to discuss revising the county’s sign policies.

Smith has been issuing letters to businesses found not to be in compliance, but said there is no penalty and that the county is “hoping they do the right thing.” The county sends about five letters a week, he said.

“My job is to enforce the current ordinance,” he said, noting that he does agree some of it needs to be revised.

The current sign ordinance was enacted in 1999, he said, and was last updated in 2008.

Smith said the commissioners could soon vote to change the “changeable copy” rules for electronic signs — allowing all businesses to change their copy every eight seconds.

Members of the subcommittee are also exploring the possibility of allowing flags for certain periods of time with a temporary permit, he said.

Smith said the group is also looking for ways to shorten and simplify its sign policies. The subcommittee is reviewing similar policies in Morgantown and Martinsburg, but has found that not many West Virginia counties have their own sign policies.

Fruth said she believes the changes are long overdue and would only help the county’s business community.

“This isn’t really an enforcement issue. This is an issue of whenever the sign document was created, maybe there wasn’t enough thought put in to it about it being burdensome for businesses,” she said. “There are a lot of other places that would love to have the businesses we do — whether their flag is flying or signs are out because it would mean you’re employing people and building the tax base.”

The next Putnam County Commission meeting is at 9 a.m. Aug. 8.

Reach Carlee Lammers at Carlee.Lammers@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @CarleeLammers on Twitter.

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