Signage regulations questioned

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2004

JACKSON – Representative Jay Watson from the Northampton County Building Inspection Department met with Commissioners here Tuesday during their second monthly meeting in an attempt to secure a decision regarding a request from Lamar Outdoor Advertising to reconstruct an outdoor sign that was damaged by Hurricane Isabel.

The issue was met with mild debate as the sign, located near the intersection of Highway US 158 and Perdue Hatchery Road, had been reconstructed without the proper permission required by the terms of the lease, which is set to expire in June of 2008.

According to the most current version of the Northampton County Outdoor Advertising Sign Ordinance, the sign was in violation for failure to obtain the proper zoning or building permits. Argument was also made that Lamar had violated section 5.6 of the ordinance, requiring that a sign be located at least 500 feet away from &uot;an existing residence, church, school or public institution.&uot;

The Lamar representative defended that the sign had been grandfathered in prior to the existence of the ordinance and that the sign had predated the construction of the housing development and therefore requested that the newly reconstructed structure be permitted to remain.

When the question was posed as to whether any of the residents of the nearby community had complained, none were recorded.

According to section 8.0 of the ordinance, &uot;Any outdoor advertising sign already legally in existence on June 17, 1991 may be maintained for the reasonable life of the sign. If the sign is destroyed or partially destroyed to the extent that new permits are required, or the sign owner wishes to secure any permit to replace the sign structure for any other reason, the sign shall be made to conform to this ordinance except as otherwise provided by State law.&uot;

The Lamar company, which covers 38 other counties, commented that the guidelines for Northampton County were &uot;less user friendly than the rest of the state.&uot; Commissioner James Boone supported his comments and recommended the Board review its policies with regard to the ordinances to ensure that they are indeed &uot;user friendly.&uot;

The Lamar rep also made note that, with the exception of the permission issue, the reconstructed sign is up to standard and in compliance with the existing construction regulations.

Of the two options presented to Commissioners for consideration, County Manager Wayne Jenkins and Economic Development Director Gary Brown expressed the second as the preferred choice. The option would allow &uot;an amortization period permitting the use of the sign for the duration of the current lease, requiring the removal of the sign at the expiration of the lease&uot; as opposed to a strict interpretation of the ordinance which would require the Board to deny the appeal and have the sign removed.

A motion to adopt the option was rescinded to allow the County Attorney time to review the legalities and implications of the decision. The suggestion that the Board table the issue until a later date in order to &uot;err on the side of caution&uot; was halted with respect to scheduling difficulties of the representative from Lamar and the previous delay he experienced as a result of a December 17, 2003 deadline that was postponed, causing him to have to reschedule. After a brief discussion and short recess allowing the County Attorney to review the paperwork, the Board returned and voted to allow Lamar to retain its sign until the expiration of the lease. The representative offered his thanks to the Board.