Letters to the Editor

Don't allow digital sign blight

Next week Myrtle Beach City Council is considering final adoption of an ordinance to allow digital electronic signs for most businesses throughout the city as well as on billboards.

I believe this would result in severe sign clutter and defeat the excellent efforts of the city in improving the streetscape over the past 30 years.

When the original comprehensive sign ordinance was drafted, the intent for business identification signs was simply to identify the main business. The research I did as Myrtle Beach's city planner over 30 years ago indicated that "the average observer cannot simultaneously retain more than seven different words."

"However, while traveling along any one streetscape, he [or she] may be confronted with a multitude of signs containing hundreds of words.

"This graphic overload results in: signs of other businesses and of a traffic regulatory nature not being seen; a cluttered visual environment, a blighting effect on commercial areas; and a general level of confusion possibly increasing traffic hazards."

As a result, the original ordinance proposed that sign copy would be limited to the identification of the business and the principal service or commodity sold on-premises.

The idea was to deter signs from becoming "commercials" and to avoid overwhelming tourists and drivers by the number of messages presented and to encourage the use of simple graphics and logos to communicate messages in a visually appealing, tasteful and safe manner.

These findings are still valid today.

Some argue that changeable digital signs would appear more modern and attractive than the current haphazard and ugly white board with black letters. But the larger point is that any changeable copy boards are superfluous and lead to visual clutter - whether manual or digital.

Take a drive down our streets and concentrate on reading these signs: The vast majority of these signs have misspelled messages that add little substantive information. This is a tough time for all businesses, but it is also a time to focus on repositioning, improving product, quality and value, not sabotaging the ongoing efforts of the city of Myrtle Beach to distinguish itself from "Coney Island" - type beach towns.

I urge the City Council to defer action on this proposed ordinance and to give consideration to gradually phasing out most changeable copy signs, and most importantly to stop the threat of digital sign virus.

The writer is president of Dock Street Communities and was Myrtle Beach's first city planner.

He drafted the original sign ordinance, as well as the original landscaping and community appearance ordinances that are in effect today.