Public hearing set on new sign rules

By Tom Joyce -

Citizens have an opportunity next week to comment on new sign regulations for Mount Airy, highlighted by tighter restrictions on billboards.

And there are indications the public hearing — set for June 16 at 7 p.m. during a meeting of the city Board of Commissioners in the Municipal Building — could include reaction from at least one sign company owner.

Jim Troy, who is associated with Toby Outdoor, a Charlotte business he founded in 1984, appeared at the last commissioners meeting Thursday night. During a public forum portion of that session, Troy inquired about his opportunity to speak at the upcoming hearing, which the board agreed that night to set for June 16.

Toby Outdoor has installed more than 70 billboards in area counties in both North Carolina and Virginia, according to the company’s website.

However, those signs could become more difficult to erect in Mount Airy, based on new regulations proposed which stemmed from concerns raised in January by Commissioner Shirley Brinkley. She cited a proliferation of billboards along the U.S. 601 (Rockford Street) business corridor, which discussion revealed was a result of relatively lax regulations in the city compared to other localities.

At that time, the city council imposed a moratorium on further billboard installations until regulations regarding the large signs could be studied by the Mount Airy Planning Board and city planning staff.

The planning board and commissioners held a joint meeting last month to discuss a draft ordinance for the new sign proposals which resulted, setting the stage for last week’s action to schedule the June 16 public hearing.

New billboard regulations announced at that time include the establishment of a minimum 1,000-foot distance between a billboard and any other off-premises outdoor advertising sign, either located on the same or opposite side of the street.

The minimum distance between billboards is now 500 feet, but Planning Director Andy Goodall says the proposed restrictions would not apply to existing billboards, only those installed in the future.

Such signs also would have to be at least 500 feet from the nearest point of any residentially developed property, whether in the jurisdictional limits of the city or not.

One change eyed would limit the height of billboards to 30 feet, shorter than now allowed.

Among other rules in the draft sign measure, no “double-decker” or side-by-side billboards would be allowed, which are permitted now.

The large signs would continue to be restricted to commercial areas zoned for highway business, namely U.S. 52-Bypass, U.S. 601 (southwest from U.S. 52) and N.C. 89 (west of U.S. 52).

LED or electronic billboards are not permitted under the draft ordinance, which can be read in its entirety on the city government website.

The local zoning ordinance regulations involved have been completely reworked to address other types of signs besides billboards, including political posters, and adhere to a recent court ruling protecting free speech.

Early discussion

While Commissioner Brinkley has been insistent about tighter regulations for billboards, other city officials seem more pro-business on the matter, including Commissioner Steve Yokeley and Mayor David Rowe.

That was evident at May’s joint session with the planning board and last week’s council meeting.

This included comments about ensuring that Troy, the Toby Outdoor official, would have sufficient time to make his case at the public hearing.

“We’re talking about a man’s livelihood here,” the mayor said.

There also was an indication that the proposed ordinance could be in store for some tweaks.

“I think it needs some further discussion,” said Yokeley, a retired dentist who is now in the real estate profession.

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

By Tom Joyce

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