Someone out there does not like neon signs or flashing lights in the Pier Village shopping district on St. Simons Island.
If that person had not complained about it, Glynn County Code Enforcement officer Franklin Graves would not have paid a visit Monday to Sharon Clark at her St. Simons Sweets shop. Clark was mildly shocked to learn that the ice-cream-shaped neon light as well as the “shakes,” “candy” and “bakery” signs on the side of the popular ice cream and confectionary shop would have to go.
After all, these signs have proved valuable in shedding light on what is available inside for some 10 years. No one ever said anything before, she said.
“My (employee) came up and told me, ‘You’re not gonna like this.’” Clark said Wednesday. “She said code enforcement just came up and we have to remove all the signs out of the windows, the ones that are lit up. I said, ‘What?’”
St. Simons Sweets is one of 23 businesses in the Pier Village area that code enforcement identified Monday as being in violation of the county’s lighting ordinance, said Pamela Thompson, the county’s director of Community Development. Not all of those whose businesses were identified have been contacted, Thompson said. Those who were contacted were given verbal notice of the violation, she said. If necessary, the process of citing a violation could take up to two months, she said.
The ordinance prohibits neon signs or blinking lights in store windows within the “St. Simons overlay district.” “All the Pier Village is within that overlay district,” she said. The lighting prohibitions have been in place since 1992, but code enforcement only takes action on ordinance violations if someone insists, she said.
“Our code enforcement department is complaint-driven,” Thompson said. “If we receive complaints about neon lights, we will inspect it. We don’t just practice spot enforcement either. If other businesses are around with the same violation, we go ahead and notify everybody. But we only go out there based on a complaint.”
Clark’s sons, Max Melvin and Jake Clark, operate Two Brothers Bike Shop next door. Code enforcement informed them that the flashing LED “Open” sign in the front window would have to go. The brothers have been selling, renting and repairing bicycles there for five years.
“They said it’s not allowed,” Melvin said. “We’ve had the light on the whole time.”
The owners of Del Sur Artisan Eats in the village received notice that the LED lighted “Open” sign at the restaurant’s entrance was in violation. Co-owner Alberto Llano pointed Monday to the understated steer’s head imprint on the brick wall beside the entrance to the Argentine/Italian cuisine restaurant.
“It’s not like we have that cow moving his head back and forth in lights, with the eyes rolling around, like in Vegas,” he said. “It was just an ‘Open’ sign, a way for people to know we’re here. But someone complained and now it’s gone.”
Llano and co-owner Hernan Stutzer took the sign down Monday after meeting with Graves. The ‘Open’ sign had been been attracting diners ever since they opened four years ago. It was good for business, he said.
“We’re just trying to make an honest living,” Stutzer said.
Down the street at St. Simons Sweets and Two Brothers Bikes, the lights are still on. For now.
“We’re leaving them on because they said no fines are going to be issued yet,” Clark said.
Graves’ verbal warnings could be followed in 30 days by an official letter of noncompliance for all who remain in violation of the lighting ordinance, Thompson said. Another 30 days of noncompliance could lead to a misdemeanor zoning violation, fines for which are determined by the county magistrate court. Typically, about $50, she said.
The code states that business signs can be “illuminated,” but not with neon or lights in motion, Thompson said. Businesses could try to seek a variance exception through the county commission, she said
“But if it is an LED sign, and they just set it to no motion, they can keep it,” Thompson said.