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Sign ordinance public hearing set for March

The Lincoln County Planning Board met Thursday afternoon to discuss the proposed changes to the county’s sign ordinance.
At the beginning of the meeting, Vice Chairman John Pagel instructed the crowded commissioners room at the James W. Warren Citizens Center that no comments from the audience would be taken.
“This is a workshop designed for Planning Board members and staff,” he said. “If a member of the Planning Board has a question of an audience member, then he may ask.”
County zoning administrator Randy Hawkins ran through the changes he and the East Lincoln Area Council had worked on for 18 months.
The first point Hawkins discussed was elimination of the grandfather clause.
“The clause has caused problems, especially with portable signs,” said Hawkins. “Some business owners have claimed that their signs were grandfathered in with the ordinance. This change is aimed at these signs.”
In a Nov. 23 Lincoln Times-News article, it was reported the elimination of the grandfather clause meant businesses that once fell under the clause would have one year to come into compliance with the sign ordinance.
“One year is too long to give business owners time to change their signs,” Pagel said at that meeting. “Six months is all they really need.”
Planning Board member Junior Howard agreed.
“Even though they’ve had the past 13 years or so, they can’t complain about being given another year to change or eliminate their signs,” he said.
At the Thursday meeting, no changes had been made to the one-year time limit for businesses to comply with the sign ordinance.
The second change to the county’s existing sign ordinance involved the definition of portable signs.
“We changed the definition to address four-legged signs which are considered permanent signs under the current ordinance,” said Hawkins.
Howard questioned the modification of portable signs, making them permanent signs.
“If the people already have a problem with signs on four legs, would putting brick around them really make them more attractive,” he asked. “My answer is they wouldn’t.”
Pagel suggested that “popsicle” signs — also known as temporary signs — also be covered in the definition of portable signs.
To get a better idea of portable signs, Hawkins recently drove up and down N.C. 16 looking at signs.
“Almost 95 percent of the signs I saw are four-legged signs,” Hawkins told the board. “I also saw a couple of pole signs.”
Planning Board member Larry Craig asked Hawkins how many businesses along N.C. 16 were out of compliance.
“Businesses since 1994 are virtually all in compliance,” answered Hawkins.
Craig said he also traveled N.C. 16 and that at first look, signs from a distance looked like they were cluttering the area.
“It just amazed me,” he said. “The signs actually looked to be in compliance when looking at them up-close.”
He added that the whole issue depends on how one views clutter.
“There are a lot of popsicle signs out there, especially a lot of real estate and for sale signs,” said Craig.

Raise the banners?
Banners, according to Hawkins, were point three of the four changes proposed in the county’s existing sign ordinance.
“On-premise signs are currently allowed for a total of 14 days three times per year for special events,” said Hawkins. “The problem is, there is no permit required so we in the zoning office don’t know when the banners go up.”
Hawkins added that the office has received complaints about banners adding to the sign clutter along N.C. 16.
In researching this issue, Hawkins said he looked at other jurisdictions regarding banners.
“In the central business district in Lincolnton, businesses are allowed to display banners for up to 12 weeks,” said Hawkins. “Outside the central business district, there is no time limit.”
He added that other counties allow banners to be 32 square feet and be up for no more than 30 days twice per year for special events.
Howard expressed concern about the amount of time that banners are allowed.
“Businesses would prefer more time for their banners,” he said. “If we go with two 30-day periods would that be a problem? Why not go with a four 15-day period.”
Kelly Atkins, director of Building and Land Development for Lincoln County, responded by saying “if a business could define the number of days they want their banner up, it would be OK.”
Hawkins disagreed.
“I’m concerned about allowing multiple periods for banners and temporary signs per year,” he said. “My main concern is this will give free reign for people to have banners up all the time. It’s impossible to track now.”
Craig then raised the question of the board taking businesses themselves into consideration.
“We’ve got to give them some signage because business owners are trying to make a living,” he said.
The suggestion was made by Pagel to keep the time-limits the same.
Towards the end of the meeting, Mark Cotter, owner of Four Season Marine Supply in Denver, blasted the Planning Board for not taking public comment during the meeting.
“You’re just making decisions as to what’s going on in Denver,” he yelled. “You don’t care. This is nothing but a kangaroo court.”
Pagel advised him that at the first meeting of county commissioners in March, the public would have a chance to give their comments on the issue.
“If a member of the staff or board had a question for an audience member, then they could answer it,” Pagel reiterated.
Before Cotter left the room, he told the board, “I have solutions if ya’ll will just listen, but you won’t.”
After Cotter left, Planning Board member Darrell Harkey commented.
“It’s serious what we’re discussing because we’re affecting people’s livelihoods,” he said.
Pagel reiterated the process for approval or denial of the ordinance changes.
“We’ll hear the public input and then the issue will go from commissioners to us,” he said. “There’s a process here and we have to follow.”
ELAC Chairman Todd Wulfhorst was pleased with what he heard in the meeting.
“The sign ordinance is fine but does need some updating. I think the Planning Board and ELAC have made tremendous progress,” he said.
by Jon Mayhew

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