Neon-colored spray paint on city sidewalks and streets used to mark various underground utilities for construction projects has touched a nerve with Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal, who says the markings are a stain on the city’s appearance.

“I think it looks terrible, tacky,” he said in an interview, noting the recent orange markings sprayed on the sidewalk in front of City Hall at 4800 Ashford-Dunwoody Road for a construction project across the street.

The mayor’s irritation has moved him to ask the City Council to approve a new law at the Aug. 12 meeting limiting the use of spray paint and requiring cleanup. Other city officials say such a move is unusual, would be difficult to enforce and could be costly. At least one councilmember questioned the need.

“This does not stand out as a memorable complaint,” Nall said at the City Council’s July 22 meeting when the new ordinance was introduced for first read.

Nall added he did not think he could support the ordinance. “For me, this is not solving a major problem,” he said.

For Shortal, however, the new ordinance would protect the city’s neat aesthetic, he said.

“We spend millions of dollars on new sidewalks and new streets and then someone comes along and puts paint all over … I sometimes wonder if they get paid by the gallon,” Shortal said.

Utility companies use water-based paint that can often remain visible months or as long as a year after a project is completed before fading away, degrading the overall appearance of the city, Shortal said.

Spray paint on the sidewalk in front of Dunwoody City Hall on Ashford-Dunwoody Road mark where utilities are located, letting construction crews know where they are before any digging takes place. Mayor Denis Shortal said the markings are unsightly and is proposing an ordinance to restrict where and how long they can remain. (Dyana Bagby)

Making them use biodegradable paint could make those lines, arrows, squares and other shapes marking up sidewalks and streets disappear quicker and return city property to its original tidy state.

“I think to be a great city you have to have a lot of things done and done right,” Shortal said. “Some aren’t huge, but they all add up to something big. We just put in a new sidewalk at City Hall and now it looks like we’re advertising for a paint company.”

Public Works Director Michael Smith explained at the City Council’s July 22 meeting that state law outlines the process for locating and marking. The law requires a contractor give at least 48 hours’ notice to utility companies to mark underground lines before digging.

Currently, the city receives about four utility location requests per day, he said.

The American Public Works Association recommends certain colors be used, such as orange for communications or alarm signals and cables, yellow for gas or oil, red for electric power lines, green for sewer lines and blue for drinking water.

What the mayor is proposing with the new ordinance is what is known as “white lining,” Smith explained at last month’s council meeting. White lining is the practice of using white paint, stakes and flags to mark the general area of where excavation is to happen if the area cannot be clearly described. Any utility markings would then only be allowed in that white lined zone.

The new ordinance would also require the paint or other markings be removed once the project is finished.

But because white lining and removing markings at the end of construction are not common industry practices, the city would likely have to hire more staff to conduct inspections to ensure they are in compliance, Smith said. He also noted no other neighboring cities in north Atlanta have these requirements.

Enforcement is also complicated by the limited authority a local government has over state law when it comes to regulating utility markings, he added.

If a contractor is found to be in violation of not removing the spray paint, for example, the city has no authority to do anything such as issue fines or other penalties unless the project involves the contractor getting a separate city permit. In those instances, the city could revoke the permit, Smith said.

At the meeting, Councilmember Pam Tallmadge asked whether utility companies could use spray chalk, the same marking used for the city’s annual Fourth of July Parade.

Smith said utility companies use spray paint that is guaranteed to last at least one month to ensure markings can be seen before digging happens.

Nall asked Smith at the meeting if he received many calls from residents complaining about spray paint markings.

“Not on a regular basis,” Smith answered.

Shortal said if people don’t believe the spray paint on streets and sidewalks is not a problem then they must be “riding around the city with sunglasses on.” He said he has talked to other residents who feel the same as he does.

“Our right of way is our space,” Shortal said at the meeting. “This is just one aspect of keeping the city looking nice and clean … We can set a tone in Dunwoody that this is the way it’s done.

“To me this is a no-brainer,” he added.

Shortal said in an interview he hopes he can convince the City Council to approve the ordinance at the Aug. 12 meeting.

“I think people should take care of their things and be proud of what they have,” he said.