Marlinton sign debate gets state attention
Representatives from the Pocahontas County Opera House Foundation Board, the Farmers Market, local business owners, Marlinton town council members, and a representative from the Byways committee all met with West Virginia Division of Highways representatives last week to try and find a solution to an ongoing directional sign debate.
Small, blue directional signs indicating dining and lodging have been the subject of controversy the past few months at Marlinton Town Council meetings. The signs were deemed illegal and were to removed.
In hopes of finding a way to satisfy local business owners, Marlinton Mayor Joe Smith appointed a sign committee to resolve the debate. Sign committee members contacted the state highway agency requesting clarification.
William White, division chief of outdoor advertising in Charleston, inspectors Rex Casto, and Carson Blankenship, and Danny Young, who handles directional signage for the state, came to help settle the issue.
“I wanted to bring several folks up here so we could get some ideas together and see what we can do to help,” said White.
White said anyone, even the Town of Marlinton, could apply for an outdoor advertising license. The license would allow 21 permits, at $20 apiece, to put up signs as long as they comply with state regulations.
“With holding that license, you can submit a permit application for anybody,” explained White. “It's not restricted just to you. If you want to do one for Bobby's Bait Shop down the street, we don't have a problem with it. As long as it meets the regulations in the particular area you want to put up the signs. As long as you have the proper permits, you can have as many signs as you want. After you get up to 21 permits, we look at you as an outdoor advertising business company operator, and the fee goes from $125 for a license, to $1,000.”
Different factors complicate the issue. The signs are hung along a scenic byway, and for them to be legal, the stretch of byway the signs would be hung from would have to be segmented from the byway. Law mandates the signs would not be allowed to be hung within a certain distance of any sites of intrinsic value along the byway.
“You can't segment those areas within 800 feet of them, the intrinsic value is why you have the Byway in the first place,” said White.
To complicate things further, the signs are hung on light posts on the sidewalks, property owned by the town.
“That right there completely eliminates anything I can do,” said Young. “Everything I do has to be on a state right-of-way. If the sidewalk is the town's property, I can't touch 'em. That goes back to outdoor advertising.”
White suggested a possible course of action.
“I would write a letter to the Director of Planning in the West Virginia Division of Highways,” said White. “Find out what your sites of intrinsic value are. They've got all that information, all they have to do is pull it up. What I would ask for is any and all guidelines, any information they can supply you with.”
White said he thought it would be very important for the town to write a letter to the state of West Virginia, and ask them in writing if the Byway program was going to continue. If it did continue, would the program would affect any of the sites of intrinsic values in town.
Smith said he felt like progress was made at the meeting.
“I thought it was a very good meeting,” he remarked. “They answered all our questions. I think everyone concerned left there with some positive thoughts that we can do something, and do it correctly. I feel confident that we'll be able to work with the Division of Highways and get something up that's legal.”
Smith said he was told by White that as long as the town was making progress, the signs can stay up for now.
“He told me that as long as we were working towards a solution, nothing was gonna be said about those signs by his department,” said Smith. “I'm not really pushing the issue to take them down.”