Bluffton golf discounter to contest $1K code violation for promotional signs

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 24, 2012 

  • County codes require permits for almost every type of sign, from permanent business signs to political signs and temporary "stomping stick" signs. There are some exceptions:

  • Non-illuminated for sale, rent or lease signs not exceeding six square feet

  • Non-illuminated home occupation sign not exceeding four square feet

  • Temporary, in-season, agricultural products sales sign not exceeding 10 square feet

  • Private street or road name signs

  • Signs less than one square foot prohibiting hunting, fishing, loitering, trespassing, etc.

  • Official notices issued by any court, public agency or similar official body

The manager of a golf store near Moss Creek known for stationing dancing, sign-waving women along U.S. 278 is challenging a $1,100 code violation issued by Beaufort County.

Jim Criswell, the Golf Store Outlet's general manager, said he was cited April 19 for having unpermitted signs at the business at 1498 Fording Island Road.

He readily admits the signs shouldn't have been there, but plans to challenge the citation anyway, saying the county is ignoring similar violations up and down U.S. 278.

"My point is, you drove by 15 signs on 278 alone. Why have you not written them a ticket? Why are those signs out there every single day?" he asked.

Criswell is also upset the county won't allow sign-wavers, saying the ordinance is unclear.

Audra Antonacci, county director of code enforcement, said inspectors found multiple unpermitted signs at the store including temporary "stomping stick" signs that are planted in the ground, sign-wavers holding signs, and an illegal sign on the building.

"A sign is a sign, regardless of if you hold it or you put it in the ground, it needs a permit," Antonacci said.

As to claims that inspectors are ignoring temporary in-ground signs on U.S. 278, she said it was possible Criswell noticed signs inside Bluffton, which has its own rules.

"Can we get every single illegal sign? Absolutely not. But we do the best we can," she said.

According to county codes, a sign is "any object, device or structure ... used to identify, advertise, display, direct or attract to" an object, person, institution or organization through its letters, figures, designs, symbols, fixtures, logos or color, among other attributes.

"If you are holding a sign, you are going to need a permit," said Hillary Austin, county zoning administrator. "Anything advertising this business needs a permit."

Each of the three Golf Store Outlets -- the other two are in Columbus, Ohio, and The Villages, Fla. -- station sign-wavers out front to gin up business.

"I guess you call it a desperate survival tactic. It's definitely an aggressive means, but it works," Criswell said. "If I had to rely strictly on my advertising business to get the people here ... there is no way we could survive. No way."

The company pays sign-wavers $8 to $10 an hour and has two employees in that role, although they have switched to swinging golf clubs instead of signs since the store was cited last month.

Criswell said he would hire more people for the job if he could.

"Finding people to come out here and do that stuff is near impossible," he said.

The two women who currently perform the work don't seem to mind it.

Jennifer Thomas, 39, of Hardeeville said she's worked there seven days a week for almost two months, jumping, dancing and waving cars toward the entrance. In that time, she's lost about 60 pounds.

Kristina Phillips, Thomas' ex-daughter-in-law, is her partner most days. Phillips, 23, said she's lost about 10 pounds and has gotten a deep tan.

The only downside, the women agreed, were the occasional taunts from passing drivers.

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