Salisbury sign ordinance under review

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 6, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY – David Post has advocated for years that businesses should be allowed to have outdoor LED signs in Salisbury.
He might get his wish.
City Council agreed on Tuesday to create a special committee that will consider three changes to the city’s sign ordinance:
g The use of LED signs for transportation and businesses.
g Aligning the city’s regulation of political signs with new state laws.
g The use of banners along main corridors to promote community activities.
Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz said the city is due to revisit the 1984 sign ordinance.
“Times are changing, and we need to change with them,” Kluttz said.
Computerized and programmable, electronic LED signs offer more flexibility for business owners, said Post, co-owner of the Salisbury Pharmacy on West Innes Street.
Plus, you don’t have to go outside to change them, he said.
“It’s a way to get your message out,” he said.
LED signs can store and display multiple messages in dozens of formats at varying intervals.
Now, the city allows electronic signs for a handful of users: gas stations, colleges and businesses that display time and temperature.
The VA Medical Center, a federal facility exempt from local zoning ordinances, installed an LED sign on Brenner Avenue several years ago. Catawba and Livingstone colleges both use LED signs to promote events.
Critics say the signs can cause wrecks if drivers become distracted, but the city could regulate how often the signs can be changed, whether they can flash and other details, Post said.
The special committee will recommend to City Council how and where LED signs should be allowed. Electronic signs likely will not appear in the downtown or historic districts, said Joe Morris, the city’s director of Community Planning Services.
In addition to business owners, the rail division of the N.C. Department of Transportation has asked to use LED signs. The state wants an electronic reader board, similar to those in airports, at the trackside canopy at Salisbury Station to announce arrival and departure times, Morris said.
“It’s a valid request,” he said.
The special committee will include about 10 or 11 people appointed by the Salisbury Community Appearance Commission, the Salisbury Planning Board and the Design Review Advisory Committee (an auxiliary group of the Historic Preservation Commission).
Members also will consider changing the way the city regulates political signs to avoid conflicting with a new state law that allows political signs along state roads starting 30 days before one-stop early voting. The city does not allow campaign signs until 28 days before election day.
State law also allows larger signs than the city – 6 square feet compared to 5 square feet – and allows placing signs in the right of way along state roads.
The city bans political signs in rights of way on city streets, but there are 24 state-maintained roads in Salisbury. Some roads are state-maintained for a portion and city-maintained for the remainder.
“Is it reasonable for people to know the difference?” Morris said.
Finally, the committee will consider the use of banners on main corridors to promote community events. The colleges made the request, Morris said.
Banners, also called pole displays, are already allowed around the hospital, in the downtown and on college campuses, but not along the corridors connecting those areas.
Committee members first will consult with power and telecommunication utilities, which own the poles, to determine if banner use elsewhere is even feasible.
The committee will report to City Council within 90 days of its first meeting.Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.