Jackson County

Ocean Springs to rein in crop of signs growing along US 90

What about all those signs in Ocean Springs?

The Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen wants to rein in the use of street-side signs and flags that businesses use to attract customers. Take a quick look at what they’re talking about. Video by John Fitzhugh/Sun Herald
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The Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen wants to rein in the use of street-side signs and flags that businesses use to attract customers. Take a quick look at what they’re talking about. Video by John Fitzhugh/Sun Herald

It can be a visual assault at times — all the little folding signs, banners and flags along U.S. 90.

It seems to intensify nearer downtown, where the shops are closer together.

The signs announce flu shots, cellphone service, a shop’s new hours or just that a business exists.

The city discussed what to do this week as complaints have come in.

Business owner Vicki Rhodes told aldermen at their meeting Tuesday night, “The highway is our gateway to our community. It has to look good.”

Flags aren’t coming down when they get worn out, she said.

Ocean Springs has a lot of little businesses, and we’re all just doing what we have to do to survive.

Mickey Creech, owner of Java Jo’z coffee

“We’ve got all this rinky-dink signage going on right now,” she said. “Downtown is fabulous. They’ve done it right.

“The highway looks horrible.”

City building official Hilliard Fountain said when the wind blows the signs pose a hazard, and “who really reads those signs at highway speeds?”

He said the extra signs started to be a problem last year. He was hoping aldermen would help his department find a simple way of citing business owners who are out of compliance; otherwise, court is involved.

There is a law, he told aldermen, but the city doesn’t have a full-time code-enforcement officer to make the rounds regularly.

“It’s difficult to control,” Mayor Connie Moran said. “You don’t see these signs in Gautier, but they seem to grow here.”

Alderman Matt McDonnell said the city must be consistent or it won’t do any good. “Doing nothing for a long period of time is why you have a problem,” he said.

The art of survival

Alderman John Gill noted “advertising is part of the livelihood of a business. They can’t get enough advertising.”

After the meeting, Alderman Chic Cody said, “God knows we don’t want to hurt business.” It’s sales tax from these small businesses that carry the city, he said.

We can look like Las Vegas if we want to, or they need to keep to the ordinance ... and do their advertising another way.

Hilliard Fountain, city building official

Business owners say they need all the help they can get. They say the landscape along U.S. 90 starts looking the same, and they need to distinguish their businesses.

Mickey Creech, owner of Java Jo’z coffee shop, said he has worked to comply with the city during his shop’s 12 years.

He knows a folding sign can’t be in the highway right-of-way or MDOT will pick it up. If the city takes one, you can retrieve it from the Building Department; if it happens too may times, the city can fine you.

“But I personally don’t think anyone is doing anything wrong,” he said. “Ocean Springs has a lot of little businesses, and we’re all just doing what we have to do to survive.”

The law and what to do

The law allows portable signage as long as it’s one sign; not on the highway right-of-way; and it comes down each day at closing time.

Flags and banners are a different story. As long as a flag is non-commercial — just a color or announcing “open” or “welcome” — it is probably OK. It can’t announce what a business sells. When a flag is non-commercial, business owners can call it yard art because it’s on their property.

The problem comes when businesses go beyond. One person in the Building Department said, “At times it looks like one business is trying to outdo his neighbors.”

Then there is placement.

Fountain said the city pulled one fitness center’s sign, warned the owner when he came to retrieve, then watched as the sign went back up. Over weeks, it crept back out toward the highway, where it was illegally in the right-of-way again.

“I watched it as it kept moving further and further out,” Fountain said.

“We can look like Las Vegas if we want to. Or they need to keep to the ordinance, limit the number of signs, and do their advertising elsewhere, another way.”

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