06/03/09 — County ponders new regulations for signs along some roadways

View Archive

County ponders new regulations for signs along some roadways

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 3, 2009 1:46 PM

There appeared to be some confusion Tuesday over the scope of a proposed amendment to the county's zoning ordinance that would establish size and location requirements for signs in the county.

One of the two speakers at the brief public hearing questioned whether the amendment was an issue of safety or was just big government telling businesses what to do.

Commissioners took no action following the hearing, but they are expected to revisit the issue at their June 16 meeting for possible consideration.

The amendment would apply only to on-premises signs located in areas the county has zoned. It would set size and location requirements.

The lack of sign and parking lot standards has played into the debate surrounding a rezoning request by Commissioner Steve Keen, who is also a member of the Planning Board.

The county planning staff cited appearance concerns in recommending against rezoning a portion of Keen's property from residential to commercial shopping. The Planning Board recommended the rezoning.

During a public hearing last month, county Planning Director Connie Price said he would have no problem with the request if the county had sign and parking lot standards in place. Commissioners have yet to act on the request.

Following a public hearing several months ago, commissioners referred back to the Planning Board an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would establish parking lot standards. No further action has been taken on the issue.

The sign standards are being touted as a way to enhance the aesthetics of the county and its ability to attract economic development.

Price on Tuesday said the sign standards also are needed to ensure fair and consistent enforcement of sign regulations and to minimize any potential negative effects signs might have on nearby property.

Also of concern, he said, is safety, by minimizing distractions caused by the signs.

Existing signs would be grandfathered in, Price said. However, changes could then fall under the new rules, he said.

During Tuesday's hearing, Aaron Guyton, who said he works for a billboard company, told commissioners that static billboards with messages that change are safe.

He was responding to comments made during a presentation by Price that safety was one factor in regulating the signs.

Guyton also was concerned about how the amendment would affect billboards.

Price reiterated that the ordinance would apply only to on-premises signs. Billboards would not be affected, he said.

Sean Nielsen, representing local Pizza Inns, said the restaurant utilizes large banners as a means of advertising specials. What, he wanted to know, constituted a distraction?

"Is it a safety issue or bigger government telling us what to do," he said.

Nielsen said he understands if safety is an issue, but added that it is a "tough economy" businesses are operating under.

He noted that the amendment would allow political signs to be posted 60 days prior to an election.

"That is 60 days of distraction," he said.

Also, he asked, what about Christmas signs when they sprout up around the holiday?

"My question is how far does this go?" he said.

The amendment does not apply to municipalities, responded County Manager Lee Smith.

Commissioner Jack Best asked Price how closely the county proposal mirrored Goldsboro's sign standards.

"It is very close," Price said. "If someone puts up a sign then is annexed into Goldsboro they would not have a non-complying sign."

Price provided an over-view of the amendment to commissioners during the board's briefing session that is held prior to the board meeting.

One change concerned signs for churches, schools or public buildings. As recommended by the Planning Board, the amendment would have eliminated a requirement that a sign not be placed closer than 15 feet to the property line.

However, Best questioned removing that requirement and it was decided to leave it in.

Commissioner J.D. Evans said he wanted to ensure that the public knew about the changes.

Price said people in the sign business want to know the rules and regulations.

"They do not want to put up a sign that does not comply," he said.