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Bitterness over sign controversy remains

After a virtual war over allowing temporary signs ended via Lincoln County Commissioners approving businesses to have “floppy” signs in the county, the Denver businessman at the center of the controversy now wants to make peace with the group he fought against.
Mark Cotter wants to now work with the East Lincoln Area Council (ELAC) for the betterment of Lincoln County.
In an email obtained by the Lincoln Times-News, Cotter said he wanted to put an end to the fighting.
“I would rather that I and the majority of small business owners and the ELAC group all work together.”
Cotter stated he was dumbfounded as to how the Lincolnton/Lincoln County Chamber could take a “negative” approach to the sign ordinance by not recommending to allow the signs.
“My purpose was twofold,” said Cotter. “First, it was to help clean up the area from sign abuse. Second, it was to allow small business the right to advertise on their own front lawn.”
Cotter, owner of Four Season Marine Supply, which is one of four area businesses that make temporary signs.
He said in a recent interview that while his main business is the marina during the spring and summer, off-season he relies on income from the temporary signs to keep his business going.
Cotter said with the 3-2 vote, there may not be a big change in signage.
“However, the fact remains that land developers, construction and real estate companies are and will continue to be the cause of sign clutter,” said Cotter. “It’s these groups that need to be scrutinized and regulated.”
Bob Hecht, owner of Century 21 Hecht Realty, disagreed with Cotter’s sentiment.
“I’ve said from the beginning that I am fine with real estate signs regulated, as long as all companies adhered to the same rules,” said Hecht.
Hecht said his impression of ELAC’s work with county zoning administrator Randy Hawkins on the proposed changes on the sign ordinance was to make the future N.C. 16 – Business (the current N.C. 16) more attractive for people living, working and passing through Denver.
“I feel our work was towards cleaning up the road, because there is a huge amount of clutter,” said Hecht.
Chamber president Ken Kindley echoed Hecht’s sentiment.
“Those signs really cause a traffic hazard,” said Kindley. “When you’re driving on N.C. 16, curiosity will take over, because people will want to read signs.”
Kindley added ELAC — as a group of 12 business owners in east Lincoln — worked “very hard” on the changes to the sign ordinance.
“Joe DiPento and Andrew Johnson even made a video of the signs on N.C. 16,” said Kindley.
ELAC member and 2005 Denver Area Business Association (DABA) president Andrew Johnson, said the vote shows the recurring issue that has been facing East Lincoln the last few years.
“People with the power to affect our lives are making decisions without proper knowledge and forethought,” he said. “How in the world can a group of commissioners act in our best interest when they go against the will of the two of the biggest groups in the county?”
Johnson is referring to both the Lincolnton/Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and DABA.
“The three commissioners from west Lincoln voted against the two from east Lincoln, as if they knew better what was good for us.”
On the subject of Cotter’s influence with the board, Johnson called the votes of Commissioners Alex Patton, James “Buddy” Funderburk and Carrol Mitchem “swayed by spin and half-truths.”
“What started as a noble effort to clean up our community has turned around and smacked us in the face,” said Johnson.
The original sign ordinance, passed in 1993, did not allow the signs.
Proposed changes worked on for nearly two years by ELAC and county zoning administrator Randy Hawkins also did not include lifting the ban on temporary signs.
Cotter circulated a petition along N.C. 16, obtaining signatures under what members of ELAC called false pretense: Cotter claimed he was obtaining signatures to allow temporary signs.
Members of ELAC, including Ken Morris, said that not only did Cotter misrepresent the petition, but that some of the signatures were not legitimate.
“People I talked to told me they didn’t sign,” said Morris. “When a lot of business owners found out employees signed Cotter’s petition, they became irate.”
While Cotter acknowledged some errors may have occurred as he was collecting signatures, such as those by people with businesses just outside Lincoln County in an area where it’s possible to mistake still being inside county lines, the county, commissioners voted to allow the signs.
Johnson hinted this may not be the last of the temporary sign issue.
“Hopefully, after November, we can look at this issue again and possibly fix the problem once and for all,” he said.
by Jon Mayhew

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