The Oconee County Code Enforcement Office has sent letters to permit holders for signs on three properties at the busy Oconee Connector intersection with SR 316, telling them they have until Nov. 17 to bring their signs into compliance with the county’s ordinance.
Code Enforcement Officer Paul Smith posted the registered letters on Oct. 17 to Jamie Boswell, owner of Boswell properties, and to two other sign permit holders, pointing out that the county’s Unified Development Code prohibits the installation of signs on the right of way of a public road.
|Southwest Corner Connector and SR 316|
On Nov. 17, according to the letter from Smith, the county will remove any sign that is not in compliance with the county ordinance.
The county has been aware that the sign for Boswell Properties is not in compliance with the county ordinance since at least April, but it had chosen not to take action because Boswell had claimed that the state didn’t care that his sign was in the public right of way.
Boswell is an Athens real estate broker and, since early 2013, District 10 representative to the 14-member State Transportation Board.
The county sent identical letters to Boswell, 788 Prince Ave., Athens, Nichols Land and Investment Company, 2500 Daniells Bridge Road, Oconee County, and Andy Homeyer, 1361 Jennings Mill Road, Oconee County.
Nichols has a sign on property at the northeast corner of SR 316 and the Connector, and Homeyer has a sign on property on the southeast corner of that intersection. Homeyer is listing agent for KW Commercial.
At present, property markers for those two lots are not visible, BR White, director of Code Enforcement and Planning for Oconee County, told me in a telephone conversation on Monday.
White said Nichols and Homeyer will have a chance to show that they are in compliance with the county ordinance that requires signs to be at least five feet back from the end of the property or to move the signs back to meet the ordinance.
The Boswell sign is clearly in the ROW, according to documents filed with the application for the sign permit. The issued permit allows for a sign about a third of the way down the Oconee Connector to Mars Hill Road rather than at the corner.
Another Letter Sent
Code Enforcement Officer Smith also sent the identical registered letter to Charles Upchurch, 2405 W. Broad Street, Athens.
Upchurch does not have a listing at the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection, but White said the letter was sent because Upchurch has had signage in the area in the past.
Boswell also had the listing for the property now listed by Homeyer, and the county had raised concerns about the placement of the Boswell sign as well.
Homeyer obtained the permit for his sign on June 24 of this year.
The county permitted the Nichols sign on Nov. 8 of 2013.
Boswell Informed Of Problem
White told me in early April that a code enforcement officer had spoken directly with Boswell about the problem with the signs.
In addition, according to White, he had a certified letter ready to go to Boswell telling him to address the sign problem but was instructed by County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko not to send the letter.
Benko confirmed that decision on June 4 and told me he had intended to talk to Boswell himself rather than send the certified letter. According to Benko, Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis volunteered to talk to Boswell instead.
Benko told me that Davis reported back that the state had no problem with the sign being in the state right. Benko said he decided not to enforce the county’s more restrictive ordinance upon getting that report from Davis.
Smith copied Benko, County Attorney Daniel Haygood, White and Gaby Bryan, county code enforcement officer for signage, when he sent the Oct. 17 letters to Boswell and the others.
Georgia Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Todd Long told me in July that the Georgia Department of Transportation had more important things to do than enforce its sign ordinance.
He made that comment when I asked about Boswell’s signs, but what Long told me was in conflict with what I had been told by others in GDOT about enforcement of the state law on signage in rights of way.
That state law says “It shall be unlawful for any person to erect, place, or maintain within the dedicated right of way of any public road any sign, signal, or other device.”
The law makes an exception for “bus shelters” and advertisements placed on them.
Conversation With Boswell
I talked with Boswell by telephone on July 23 and asked him about the signs.
He said that the Nichols sign and another sign in the same intersection also were in the right of way. He said he didn’t remember whose sign that was, but Homeyer has the only other sign in the intersection.
Despite that, Boswell said, he had moved his sign back out of the right.
“The sign already has been moved,” he said. “I had to go out there and get somebody to mark off where the right of way was. I told them to put ribbons up so the guy would know where the right of way was.”
Sometime in July the sign at the Boswell sign was moved back from its original location.
White told me on Monday the sign still is in the right of way and is far from its permitted location.
Pretty tough to stay within bounds when the bounds aren't clear. Then there's the reality that boundaries are for everyone.
I would worry more about the truck traffic on Mars Hill Road and the speeders than three signs!
The signs themselves are a small issue, but Mr. Boswell is our representative on the state Transportation Board and he seems to be using that position to avoid rules and regulations that he clearly knows. That is an ethical issue. The fact that our elected officials don't want to cross him is another important issue.
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