Bluffton businesses upset about the town's recent hard line on sign laws may soon get a break.
The town is considering installing new "wayfinding" signs at high-traffic sections of Calhoun Street. For a "nominal fee," businesses could lease space on signs that direct pedestrians to nearby stores.
The town is weighing two locations in the heart of Bluffton's historic district for the first signs. If the pilot program works, it could be expanded beyond Old Town.
"I think some of our concerns -- and the shopkeepers' concerns -- are that the foot traffic is on Calhoun, but how do you find somebody beyond Calhoun (on) Boundary Street, May River Road?" growth management director Marc Orlando told Town Council Tuesday.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Bluffton had relaxed its rules on temporary business signs since 2009 to help shops struggling through the economic downturn. But in August, the town again began enforcing its rules, which ban some signs outright and require a permit for others.
More than 150 illegal signs were collected during "sign sweeps" in August and September, and violation letters were sent to 26 businesses. Since then, the town says 19 of the violations have been cleared up. To date no fines have been issued, town officials said.
The new proposal appears to strike a middle ground, allowing businesses to reach customers without violating sign codes.
"I like the thought on this," Mayor Lisa Sulka said. "I would rather see a uniform sign with four or five businesses than four or five sandwich boards."
Thomas Lewis, owner of Old Town Vintage Posters on Boundary Street, who has run afoul of the rules in the past, called the town's proposal "fair" and "reasonable."
"This is, I think, an excellent way for us to coexist and survive this thing," said Lewis, who told council his business lost foot traffic and sales without a sign on Calhoun Street.
The discussion occurred during a workshop, so no council votes were needed. However, town staff pledged to move forward on the prototypes quickly.