Special session set to solve sign snafu


By Tom Joyce - [email protected]



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Mount Airy officials are ready to take another crack at new sign regulations for the city, after proposed changes last month brought criticism from the local business community.

Due to concerns raised by both the public and members of the city board of commissioners, the board tabled a decision on an updated sign proposal to allow certain provisions to be tweaked.

It was noted in June, based on comments at a hearing, that some businesses eventually would have to spend thousands of dollars to comply with the new set of rules brought forth.

The sign issue will be revisited at a special board work session scheduled Thursday at 4 p.m. in the downstairs conference room of the Municipal Building. It is open to the public.

Deadline dropped

During Thursday’s gathering, the commissioners plan to review and discuss amendments to the city sign ordinance made since the June 16 public hearing by city Planning Director Andy Goodall.

“Andy listened very well to what we have asked for,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said Tuesday of changes made in response to complaints raised last month. “And he’s doing a good job.”

One noticeable difference from the document presented at the hearing eliminates a deadline, or “amortization” period, for freestanding signs not conforming to new height or area requirements proposed. It required such signs to be brought into compliance or removed before July 1, 2023.

Ben Cooke of Cooke Rental on West Lebanon Street, among others, said this posed a major expense for that business by having to replace a non-compliant sign existing there for more than 30 years.

Also mentioned was Simmons Nissan on U.S. 601, which recently underwent a major facelift, including installing an elaborate new sign reportedly costing $50,000, which the rules as initially proposed would require replacing in seven years.

Brinkley, whose concerns about billboards triggered a sweeping set of new guidelines being prepared by the city planning department and planning board affecting all types of signs, added Tuesday that she believes the changes eventually adopted should protect existing signs.

She cited Simmons Nissan and Cracker Barrel as examples of entities with newer signs that she does not have a problem with and should be allowed to remain.

“I don’t want anything that hurts business,” Brinkley said, mentioning that a sign often determines the success or failure of an enterprise.

She is hoping new restrictions on size and area of signs will be imposed only on incoming businesses. “I do think that we need to improve the appearance of the signs as far as having similar signs over a period of years,” the commissioner said of gradually achieving uniformity.

“And having portable signs is fine as well,” Brinkley said of a type listed as prohibited in new regulations.

Billboard updates

One category also tweaked with the latest amendments involves tougher rules for billboard installations in the city limits. These prompted one Charlotte installer of those large signs to say at the June hearing that the requirements are so burdensome, new ones won’t result.

One update made in the proposed billboard rules since last month’s meeting involves lessening the permitted distance between any other off-premises outdoor advertising sign from 1,000 to 500 feet. Another increases the maximum allowable height of a billboard from 30 to 35 feet, while a maximum size of 250 square feet remains.

Also, billboards would have to be at least 500 feet away from any residential “structure,” representing a change from the initial proposal stating that those larger signs must be that distance away from any “residentially developed property.”

Judging by her comments Tuesday, Brinkley would like to see tougher regulations on billboards remain in the final plan.

“Billboards do not belong in the city limits of Mount Airy — I don’t want them anymore.”

But based on what she’s become aware of so far, Brinkley is comfortable with the amended ordinance overall and defended the need for one.

“I think a sign ordinance was long-overdue,” she said, pointing out that it has been about 15 years since an overhaul of the sign regulations occurred and another probably will be needed 15 to 20 years from now.

Such measures should be renewed from time to time, Brinkley added.

“I know we have naysayers,” she said of such changes, “but you can’t please all the people all the time.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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By Tom Joyce

[email protected]

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