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

“I think it looks terrible, tacky,” said Shortal, a retired Marine brigadier general, in recent interview.

Spray paint on the sidewalk in front of Dunwoody City Hall on Ashford-Dunwoody Road mark where utilities are located. (Dyana Bagby)

The recent bright orange spray-painted markings on a sidewalk on front of City Hall at 4800 Ashford-Dunwoody Road inspired Shortal to try to do something. He introduced an ordinance in July to heavily restrict where and for how long the spray-painted markings could remain marking up city streets.

“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.”

Shortal was at first met with skepticism from city staff and fellow City Council members. Such a move would be unusual to because local heavy restrictions are not the industry standard. The ordinance would be difficult to enforce and could be costly, they also said. One council member also questioned the need for such an ordinance.

But after more discussion and two deferrals, the City Council voted unanimously Aug. 26 to approve a much scaled-back version of the mayor’s proposal. The new ordinance requires any person doing any kind of excavation work or utility markings on public streets or sidewalks to first get a permit from the city. As part of the permit, they are then required to remove all markings following completion of the project, explained Public Works Director Michael Smith. Exceptions are made for emergencies, according to the ordinance.

“Because they have to get a city permit, we can enforce this,” Smith explained at the Aug. 26 meeting. But not all spray-painted markings are for utilities, he added, so the ordinance would not address all markings.

Councilmember Terry Nall, who previously questioned the need for such an ordinance because he didn’t feel it was a major issue facing the city, said he also opposed the idea at first because Smith said it would likely be unenforceable.

But because the city would have the authority to impose fines or other punishments through the city permitting process, Nall said he could now support the ordinance.

“Because they are getting a permit from the city … we can hold them accountable,” Smith said.

The new ordinance strikes out Shortal’s original proposal to impose what is known as “white lining.” 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.

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 in support of his ordinance.