BY SARAH GREGORY
The first step in the process of adopting a sign ordinance specifically for Greeneville's Historic District was taken by the Greeneville Historic Zoning Commission on Tuesday.
If eventually adopted by the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen after a public hearing and approval at two board meetings, the ordinance would be the first to apply specifically to the Historic District.
Commissioners also heard updates and took action on certain renovations to the historic Valentine Sevier home, at 214 N. Main St. (Please see accompanying story, this page.)
PROMPTED BY BANK SIGN
Board members reviewed and approved a proposed new sign ordinance for the Historic District -- the result of complaints received about the large, illuminated Capital Bank sign high on the north wall of the bank's building on Main Street, facing the adjacent First Presbyterian Church property.
"I've had a lot of calls about that sign," said board Chairman Sarah E.T. Webster at the previous meeting of the Historic Zoning Commission.
At that meeting, she noted that she was working with Jeff Woods, the Town of Greeneville's Building Inspector, on drafting a new ordinance for signs in the Historic District.
"I'm not anti-business, but I'm appalled that I was instrumental in approval of the Capital Bank sign," said commission member Roger Hankins.
He then offered an apology to the Rev. Dr. Dan Donaldson, of First Presbyterian Church, who was in the audience.
"I can't apologize enough," Hankins added, because, in his view, the large, illuminated bank sign is "right in the front yard" of the church.
Donaldson agreed that the sign seems in the church's "front yard," adding that he did not feel the sign particularly fit the "character" of the downtown area.
Webster noted that the board had no choice but to allow the sign to be placed, however, because there was no ordinance specific to the Historic District that could be used as a basis for denying the request to mount it on the building.
"We have never had a special sign ordinance for within the local historic zone," she said.
"What we are trying to do now is recommend a sign ordinance that pertains specifically to the historic zone."
She told the other commissioners that Jonesborough's sign ordinance is the basis of the proposed Greeneville policies.
"We've made some changes, but it's a lot like [the ordinance used in] Jonesborough's historic district," said Woods, who reviewed different aspects of the ordinance with the board.
The proposed ordinance for Greeneville includes a few key changes in the ordinance, which is several pages long.
Overall, the ordinance would significantly expand the oversight of the Historic Zoning Commission and provide numerous bases upon which to deny sign requests.
If the ordinance is approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen following a public hearing and first and second readings, almost every sign placed in the Historic District after the ordinance is adopted would be subject to approval of a Certificate of Appropriateness by the Historic Zoning Commission.
Exceptions to that process would apply only if the sign is smaller than one square foot in area, or if it is temporary -- as defined in the ordinance -- or if it is a real estate sign that is unlit and smaller than four-square-feet.
PURPOSE OF ORDINANCE
A packet of information that details the ordinance was distributed at the meeting at Town Hall.
In it, a "purpose and intent" section outlines the reasons for the ordinance, which are:
* to encourage good design in the overall image and visual environment of the Town;
* to protect property values;
* to enhance the appearance of the business community and to stimulate the economic vitality of Greeneville;
* to ensure that signs are adequate, but not excessive, for the intended purpose of identification or advertisement; and,
* to avoid excessive competition for signs so that permitted signs provide identification and direction while minimizing clutter and unsightliness.
EXISTING SIGNS 'GRANDFATHERED'
The proposed ordinance addresses numerous issues such as allowed sign sizes, the number of signs that may be erected, types of mounts that may be used, colors that may be used, and guidelines for illumination.
If the ordinance is adopted, the Historic Zoning Commission would be responsible for considering each individual case.
The ordinance provides guidelines -- some very specific and others more general. However, the commission would have the authority to grant variances as members see fit.
Existing signage would be "grandfathered in" -- not subject to the regulations -- as the ordinance could not be applied retroactively.
Businesses and individuals in the Historic District seeking to place signs would be given a multi-step process to follow if the new ordinance is enacted.
In that process, three copies of an application -- one for the Building Official, a second for the Building Department, and a third for the Historic Zoning Commission -- would be required.
The application would also have to include specifics on size of the sign, the materials, any accessories (such as ribbons, chains, poles, or frames), the sign's lettering style, size, and layout, color swatches or samples, photographs of the existing building, photographs marking the proposed location of the sign shown to scale, and the approximate cost of the sign.
The cost of a sign permit -- which would be issued after the Historic Zoning Commission approved the sign and issued a Certificate of Appropriateness -- would be based on the total cost of the sign.
Board members voted to recommend Noah Young as a new member of the Historic Zoning Commission to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The term will last for two years.
Commissioners also reviewed an expedited approval of roof repairs to Nanci Lane property owned by Mark Williams. The commission was told that roofing materials would match the existing roof as closely as possible.
Because it is a maintenance issue rather than a replacement issue, a Certificate of Appropriateness was not necessary.
Prior to adjourning, the board also briefly discussed the process for expanding the area which is covered in the Historic District, since there is some interest on the commission in adding Depot Street to the Historic District zone.
Webster noted that there has been some confusion in years past about that process.
She added that expansion of the Historic District would not require approval of the Greeneville Regional Planning Commission.