Drivers along portions of Kings Highway and some other areas of Myrtle Beach could soon see signs featuring digital pictures and words where they previously weren’t allowed.
The Myrtle Beach City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve an ordinance that gives businesses in zones that allow signs with manual changeable copy the option to acquire digital signs that feature multicolored images and text, and can change as frequently or infrequently as the business owners choose.
Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means voted against the ordinance and said she was concerned that not having stipulations determining when signs could change screens could lead to distractions for drivers.
“There will be zones where animation is prohibited and zones where animation is not prohibited,” city attorney Tom Ellenburg said during Tuesday’s council meeting.
Businesses in the approved districts such as Family Kingdom, Broadway at the Beach, Coastal Grand mall and the Myrtle Beach Convention Center already can have changeable electronic variable messaging systems, or CEVMS, that allow text, pictures and animation. The ordinance expands the areas where CEVMS are allowed to include additional commercial zones, including parts of Kings Highway and areas surrounding hotels on Ocean Boulevard, but those signs cannot have animation.
Council was scheduled to approve the ordinance in August and it’s not the first time the city has debated the signs.
“It’s been about five years since we first started working on this,” Councilman Wayne Gray said.
The signs the city approved are similar to the one now seen at Gray’s North Myrtle Beach restaurant, The Spring House.
“It’s much easier for us to not have to go outside to change the lettering,” he said.
In August, the City Council asked for the creation of a Planning Commission subcommittee of 17 members to examine the possibility allowing more Myrtle Beach establishments to have CEVMS. The subcommittee presented its recommendations to the commission in February, stating that signs should not contain any graphics or animation and change once every four hours.
The council and members of the subcommittee debated Tuesday the need for establishing a set amount of time that messages were allowed to stay on a screen – referred to as a dwell time.
“I don’t have a problem with a dwell time as it’s within reason,” Mayor John Rhodes said. “And I don’t think four hours is within reason.”
Many said it would be difficult to enforce any type of dwell time restrictions.
Means said without regulating the dwell time, nothing could stop multiple signs along a street from changing one after the other, causing a distraction to drivers. Others on the council argued that the market would self-regulate the dwell time of messages.
“The market dictates what will prevent the flash boom that so many people are concerned about,” Councilman Philip Render said.
Former city manager and co-owner of Dock Street Communities David Stradinger, who served on the subcommittee, pleaded with the City Council to impose dwell times on the businesses.
“The sign industry – and my industry, as a developer – we aren’t going to regulate ourself,” he said.
Stradinger said when he served as city manager in the 1970s the city produced a brochure called “The Myrtle Beach Plan” that was distributed to residents and outlined guidelines for future growth, Stradinger said.
“Visual blight is out,” reads the brochure. “Improved community appearance is on the way.”
Stradinger said he believes, left unregulated, the city’s appearance will eventually approach being tacky.
“We keep playing to the lowest common denominator,” he said. “This is the ‘Myrtle Manor-ization’ of the community.”