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Editorial: With help, Salisbury rose from clutter

Most people don’t realize this, but Rowan County is home to one of the country’s foremost experts on signs — Charles Floyd of Cleveland. Floyd, a retired professor of real estate from the University of Georgia, long ago wrote one of the definitive books on sign clutter, particularly billboards, and helped a generation recognize how we were polluting our visual environment.

Floyd recently received Scenic America’s Founders Award, and the organization no doubt held its annual Board of Directors and Affiliates meeting in Salisbury because it’s Floyd’s home.

Floyd’s 1979 book, “Highway Beautification: The Environmental Movement’s Greatest Failure,” showed the ineffectiveness of the Highway Beautification Act and how it actually protected roadside polluters. It led to Floyd and a small group of others forming the Coalition to Protect Scenic Beauty in 1981 — an organization later becoming Scenic America.

Fast forward to today, and you can see the positive impact people such as Floyd had on the rural landscape, along with  towns and cities in the United States. Salisbury is a great example of how a strong sign ordinance can improve the appearance of a city and still not hurt it economically.

Think back to the 1980s when Salisbury had a big problem with sign clutter along streets, roads and Interstate 85; the size of signs; the number of signs allowed per property; the number of billboards; portable signs; and car dealerships out of control with their flags, pennants and anything else that twirled in the wind.

The East Innes Street entrance to Salisbury from I-85 was a nightmare of signs — overhead utility lines also were a problem. Fast-food restaurants in particular tried to have signs that were bigger and brighter than their competitors. Elsewhere, no regulations were in place to limit billboards anywhere in the city, and overall the lack of sign control often had the effect of blocking out everyone’s message.

Against much resistance from the business community, city officials courageously tackled the problem, though they often left the dirty work of hashing out a sign ordinance to groups such as the Community Appearance Commission, Planning Board and city planning staff overall.

Floyd was even brought in several times to share his knowledge and observations and lend moral support. It took much discussion and many fights, but sign control worked to improve Salisbury tremendously.

Businesses and economic developers always tend to kick and scream against sign regulations, but those complaints usually decrease or disappear altogether when they realize everyone is operating under the same rules.

Congratulations, Charles Floyd, on your Founders Award from Scenic America. And thanks for helping to open our eyes to all we were missing behind the clutter of signs.

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