DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Commissioners reached a compromise in a debate regarding billboards in the county.
However, the legislation wasn’t passed before one resident and business owner was able to apply for and receive multiple permits to construct billboards.
“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to make the motion to approve the land-use plan in 2001,” said former commissioner Gary York.
York, who owns many local billboards, has been a voice of opposition to plans limiting or even outlawing billboards in the county.
Board Vice Chairman Eddie Harris has led the fight against billboards.
“I think everyone knows my feelings,” said Harris. “Obviously I’d rather see a moratorium. My goal is to make sure billboards never become a problem in Surry County.”
In the end, commissioners settled on a set of amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance which is less restrictive than a plan introduced in August which would have limited the outdoor advertising tool to places zoned industrial manufacturing. The board sent that proposal back to the county’s planning board.
Planning director Kim Bates told commissioners the amendments, which passed 4-to-1 with Commissioner Jimmy Miller dissenting, will make a conditional-use permit necessary for somebody who wishes to construct a billboard in one of the three allowed zoning classifications — industrial manufacturing, highway business and community business.
Bates said the process will be an objective one.
“It’s a quasi-judicial process,” explained Bates. “The planning board is required to make findings of fact and conclusions of law.”
Bates said matters the board will consider when making its decisions will include the proper completion of an application and whether the proposal being considered is consistent with the county’s land-use plan. Anyone displeased with the planning board’s decision would have the opportunity to file an appeal in Superior Court.
In good faith
York, had already made a preemptive move in the game of billboards. Recently, he applied for and received eight permits to place billboards in the county, according to York.
“That’s quite disturbing to me,” Harris told York. “We have acted in good faith. We have been reasonable.”
Prior to Monday’s meeting the zoning ordinance required no special permission to construct billboards in appropriately zoned areas.
York’s permits are good for six months. If he hasn’t made significant headway in building the boards at the end of that time-frame the permits will sunset, and he will be required to apply for the conditional-use permits as the action would fall under the ordinance as amended Monday.
In a subsequent interview, York said he had to consider the worst-case scenario — a moratorium — when making his decision regarding the permits.
“They had intended to do it (place a moratorium on billboards),” explained York. “I had to protect the interests of my business. We provide a good service.”
Bates also appeared before the board to rehash another zoning matter. More than a month ago neighboring property owners raised concerns about the rezoning efforts of Brandon Duke on Pratt Road.
Duke had asked to rezone his 10-acre parcel from residential restricted to rural agricultural, which matches the zoning category of surrounding properties.
After the neighbors brought concerns before commissioners, the matter was sent back to the planning board for reconsideration. Though residents turned out at the planning board meeting to discuss the issue, the planning board didn’t change its recommendation to commissioners, according to Bates.
Commissioners approved Duke’s request.
The board, following discussion which will be covered in future editions of The News, recessed until Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the government center. At that time commissioners will receive a presentation from a financial planner hired to help the county develop a long-term financial plan.
Andy is a staff writer and can be reached at 415-4698.