DOBSON — County commissioners balked at the town of Dobson’s proposal for an LED sign at Surry County’s historic courthouse.
Monday evening the Surry County Board of Commissioners considered a lease with the town of Dobson. The agreement would have allowed Dobson to lease a corner of the property on which the historic courthouse sits for an initial period of five years and at a rate of one dollar per year.
Dobson has plans to construct an LED sign at the corner of the former courthouse, which now houses the offices of the district attorney; the Dobson Board of Commissioners has already approved the agreement.
“It would replace the banner apparatus that has been used for about the past six years,” said Knopf, explaining the sign would be used to advertise community events.
The agreement called for Dobson, or more specifically the Dobson Tourism Development Authority (TDA), to use bricks matching those at the courthouse to build the base of the sign. The TDA has plans to purchase the same bricks as are being used in the current renovation project.
However, Commissioner Eddie Harris was concerned about the sign itself.
“We sold that parking lot to the town to use for their park at a very fair rate,” explained Harris. “Wouldn’t the park be a more suitable location?”
Harris noted there are a number of monuments on the former courthouse property and the building itself is registered as a historic building. He is concerned an LED sign could detract from the historic value of the property.
“Somebody put an LED sign at an insurance office across the steet, and it looks absolutely horrid,” said Harris.
Board Chair Buck Golding asked if Harris would be pleased if the town did a feasibility study and considered other possible locations in the study.
“I want an iron-clad guarantee there is no other suitable location,” said Harris. “For an LED sign to be on the grounds of a historic structure, it just doesn’t fit.”
The board opted to take no action Monday evening, and instructed Knopf to go back to the table with town officials.
“Tell them we aren’t saying no,” said Golding. “Just go back and look at this.”
Dobson Town Manager Josh Smith said the county board’s action, or lack thereof, doesn’t throw a wrench in any gears for the town’s project. It isn’t working on any strict timeline for the LED sign.
Smith also said the town did look at other locations for the sign, including Dobson Square Park and town hall.
“There is a high volume of traffic at that intersection,” explained Smith. “We also thought it would help in cleaning up unsightly banners. We felt it was a win-win situation.”
Smith said the town would prefer to place the sign at the former courthouse property, but it is prepared to work with county officials to come to terms or choose an alternate location.
While the issue of appearance took center stage in the discussion, Commissioner Larry Phillips noted he was concerned about some language in the lease agreement. The agreement stated the town, which would control the messages posted on the sign, could not post anything “offensive.”
“Let me give you a hypothetical,” Phillips told County Attorney Ed Woltz. “What if the town put a ‘Merry Christmas’ message and somebody took offense?”
Woltz said any person who did deem a message such as that offensive could complain to Dobson, and his or her ultimate recourse could be to file suit.
Following the meeting, Phillips said the word “offensive” is an arbitrary term, and he simply doesn’t want to create a situation in which somebody suing in such a case could fall back on the terminology used in the lease agreement should a case go to trial.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.