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Applicant withdraws request for sign variance

COVINGTON -- A variance request to the county's sign ordinance that brought opposition from Smart Growth Newton County has been withdrawn.

Applicant Jack Morgan was granted the withdrawal at the Nov. 17 Board of Commissioners meeting after he decided to subdivide his property and follow the existing sign ordinance's regulations.

Morgan has three signs along Interstate 20 advertising tenants in his strip mall at 10455 Old Atlanta Highway.

He initially requested three additional signs that would be 10 percent larger than the 150 square feet allowed by the sign ordinance, which was denied by the Board of Zoning Appeals. Morgan then appealed to the BOC.

The existing signs were grandfathered in because they were in place before the sign ordinance was passed. Under the current ordinance, Morgan would be allowed only one sign per road frontage.

After meeting with Smart Growth representatives who opposed the variance, Morgan altered his request. At an Oct. 20 BOC meeting, he asked to be allowed to tear down two existing signs and replace them and alter the face of the third existing sign and was no longer requesting an increase to the square footage of the signs.

Morgan still needed a variance to rebuild the two existing signs because once they are torn down, the grandfather status is lost, according to Planning Director Marian Eisenberg.

Commissioners opted to table the request to allow Morgan and Smart Growth to work out a compromise.

On Tuesday night, Eisenberg told commissioners that the variance is no longer needed, as Morgan will subdivide his property into two parcels.

Morgan will remove the existing signs, except for one, which will be upgraded to 150 square feet. On that tract, he will also be allowed up to four wall signs. He will construct a new sign on the other tract at up to 100 square feet.

"I think that will work for our tenants and they'll get their exposure on I-20," Morgan said.

Two representatives of Smart Growth met with Morgan on Nov. 2 and indicated they were not opposed to the new plan, according to a memo sent to commissioners by Eisenberg.

"Their objections are with varying the sign ordinance and the precedence set by doing so," Eisenberg's memo states.

Jonathan Paschal, president of Smart Growth, said the organization is a citizens group and was "not in a position to compromise anything" but only agreed to meet with Morgan at the BOC's request.

"Smart Growth is pleased the zoning ordinance has not been challenged again and that it is apparently going to be upheld without any legal dispute," Paschal said. "I think Smart Growth's influence has been highly overrated ... We have no authority. We did not negotiate this out."

However, at Tuesday's board meeting, some commissioners were quick to praise Smart Growth, Morgan and the county staff for working out a compromise.

"We're a county of citizens that wants to be protective of our businesses but also protect our ordinances," Commissioner Earnest Simmons said.