MOUNT PLEASANT — When Mayor Billy Swails first rode by the small sheds that have sprouted up along U.S. Highway 17 north of here, he thought they were “the largest sweetgrass basket stands I'd ever seen.”

Others have thought they might be small restaurants. In fact, they're neither.

More accurately, they're a sign of these times, or at least signs of how much we don't like most conventional signs.

These five sheds are all signs for Carolina Park, roadside landmarks that are both novel and retro.

As new stores and restaurants build in the 1,700-acre development, the sheds will be painted with their names, and logos, not unlike roadside barns in the 20th century.

Carolina Park hired five architectural firms to find the best design, which ultimately was done by a team of Anne Maguire with McKellar and Associates and Steve Dudash with DesignWorks.

The development was allowed to build monument signs at three locations where Carolina Park fronts Highway 17, but the idea of building a more conventional wall of signs didn't seem that appealing.

That's partly because Carolina Park is in a transitional area where the development of Mount Pleasant gradually gives way to the rural countryside of Awendaw and the Francis Marion National Forest.

Lowcountry artist David Boatwright, who has done several building murals in downtown Charleston, including Hominy Grill's sign, painted “Carolina Park” on the roof and gable of some of the first sheds.

So what's been the reaction so far?

Mayor Swails was initially confused but likes them, in part because they're different. Town Administrator Eric DeMoura says he has heard from several positive responses, and Town Councilman Chris O'Neal, who lives nearby, says folks were mostly curious when they first went up.

“I don't know that there was a good or bad response to it,” he says. “It was more like, 'OK, that's what those are.' They are a little quirky.”

Brian Keel with Carolina Park says the sheds also will feature lighting that can be changed during special occasions. The area of the sheds will be landscaped with turf, sweetgrass and wax myrtles.

The signs may ease the ambivalence of motorists familiar with the Lowcountry and ambivalence about development encroaching into what once were forests, fields and farms.

It's only too bad that these signs, like the old painted barns, aren't able to serve some additional purpose. Keel says Carolina Park considered other uses, but access and safety issues posed liability concerns. Also, they would have faced stricter structural requirement if they were going to be occupied.

So while not perfect, these mysterious new sheds are certainly signs of progress.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.