It’s enough to make me want to walk around in a sandwich board that says: “THANK YOU!”
Thank you to the Design Review Board on Hilton Head Island for trying to preserve one of the island’s greatest claims to fame: No ugly signs.
When people from off come to visit us, they without fail comment on how nice it is that there are no ugly signs.
This is the character of a place. This is its DNA. This is what you keep.
Many anti-ugly-sign people came before us, and we owe it to them not to change course now, even as times change — even as a main whine is not that we have fewer birds but that we don’t have a Trader Joe’s.
The late Tim Doughtie pushed for — and helped write — sign restrictions for the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce, Beaufort County and the new Town of Hilton Head Island when it incorporated in 1983.
In a public meeting held while Beaufort County Council was considering its first sign ordinance, Doughtie said: “(Outlawing billboards) has been done, it can be done and it will be done. The real cost will come if we don’t stop it. What possible incentive could there be for anyone to come here and see the same mess they have everywhere else?”
Then, in a 1977 interview with Island Events magazine, Doughtie said: “You can never stop fighting ugliness and greed in this world, unless you want to give up completely and let the other side win by default.”
That’s why both the town of Hilton Head and Beaufort County have worked so hard for so long to stamp out ugly signs.
The current question on Hilton Head is not about billboards, but it is about the size of business signs.
I’ve always said you can get a sign permit on Hilton Head as long as you can prove nobody can read the sign.
We have no internally-lit signs, which knocks neon out of the picture. Caricatures on signs were poo-pooed, something the Cracker Barrel people didn’t like when they came to the island with a mustard-shaded sign with the image of old Uncle Hershel on it.
And we don’t want signs in the form of people dressed as mermaids or the Statue of Liberty or air-guitar players.
Hilton Head is in good shape on signs. We just need to keep it that way. We’ve all got GPS and Siri telling us where to turn anyway. Without even using our clutzy fingers, we can get our phones to give us precise directions.
Kudos to the Design Review Board, chaired by Jake Gartner, for respectfully recommending that the town Planning Commission and town staff determine whether it is founded in its fear that signs on Hilton Head are (legally) becoming “increasingly oversized in nature.”
The board is charged with protecting the island’s character. In this case, it is living up to that important duty. And that’s a good sign.