Saluda sign raises question of ordinance enforcement

Published 4:53 pm Thursday, February 5, 2009

Disagreement over how the city will enforce its sign ordinance arose at a recent special meeting in Saluda.

The subject of the meeting was the Atkins produce sign, erected last year on the roof of the Atkins building adjacent to I-26. The sign does not comply with the city&squo;s sign ordinance or the Highway Beautification Act of 1965.

The special meeting was called by city commissioners Johnnie Kinard and Leon Morgan and was also attended by Mayor Rodney Gibson, the city administrator, the zoning administrator and several planning board members. The meeting was cut short by Gibson, who said repeatedly there was no emergency and that the meeting was called illegally.

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&uot;I still don&squo;t understand why we&squo;re having an emergency meeting,&dquo; Gibson said. &dquo;You called one that I think is illegal. There was no enforcement action being taken. There&squo;s no emergency.&dquo;

Kinard began the meeting saying Saluda has a problem regarding the Atkins&bsp; sign. He said his interpretation of statutes is that if the city enforces the ordinances for one sign, it has to enforce them for all signs out of compliance. At least 15 signs within the city limits currently do not comply with the city&squo;s sign ordinance, city administrator Erny Williams told commissioners. One such sign is the Texaco sign next to the Atkins sign. Kinard said he doesn&squo;t think the city can afford a lawsuit from Texaco.

&dquo;We cannot afford it,&dquo; Kinard said. &dquo;It would be ten times worse than the Canoe Association (lawsuit).&dquo;

The Texaco sign is grandfathered and the city&squo;s provisions give grandfathered signs two to five years to come into compliance.

Mayor Gibson disagreed with Kinard&squo;s belief that if the city enforces ordinances for one sign it must enforce them for all. Gibson said that officials enforce signs one at a time as non-conformance is identified.

&dquo;(The law) doesn&squo;t say every time you find one violation you have to enforce all in violation at the same time,&dquo; Gibson said.

Gibson seemed angry at times and once asked city zoning administrator Gene O&squo;Neal if he wanted to continue being the city&squo;s zoning administrator. Kinard said Gibson can&squo;t fire O&squo;Neal because that would take action from the entire board. Gibson responded that he knows firing someone would take a vote of three commissioners.

The reason for the meeting was to clarify the city&squo;s status of enforcing its sign ordinance near I-26. Saluda officials say based on N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, DOT must certify the city&squo;s sign ordinance in order for the city to enforce it near the interstate. City attorney Bailey Nager wrote a draft letter to the DOT asking if the city ever received certification to enforce its ordinances near the interstate, and if the certification does not exist he asked the DOT to certify the city&squo;s ordinances. In the meantime, Nager asked the DOT to enforce the ordinances regarding Atkins&squo; sign since it doesn&squo;t meet the state code.

Once the clarification from the state is made, the city may also decide to send out notices to property owners who have signs out of compliance, including notifying owners of grandfathered signs how long they have to bring the signs into compliance.