Bertie bans off-premise billboards

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 21, 2007

WINDSOR – As Bertie County grows, so does the need to promote an area experiencing a residential and commercial rebirth.

However, that growth can become problematic if left unregulated.

Untamed growth was the purpose behind a decision made here Monday night by the Bertie Board of Commissioners to place a one-year moratorium on off-premise outdoor advertising.

Following a scheduled public hearing on the matter, the five-member board was unanimous in their decision which prohibits new billboards or other forms of outdoor, off-premise advertising until Feb. 19, 2008.

“This gives us a year to study this issue more closely from where we can come-up with outdoor advertising regulations concerning things such as height, appearance and proximity to homes and churches,” Traci White, Bertie County Planning Director, said.

The moratorium does not prohibit business owners from placing outdoor signage/advertising on their premises.

For board chairman Rick Harrell, the moratorium doesn’t discourage new or established businesses from locating or expanding their commercial/retail/recreational presence. Rather, the moratorium addresses the issue of protecting the dignity and aesthetic quality of Bertie County while local officials perform an expeditious review and recommend an ordinance that properly regulates off-premise outdoor advertising.

“The board of commissioners and the citizens of Bertie County take pride in our county,” Harrell said. “We’ve got one chance to make it right when it comes to protecting the natural beauty of Bertie County. This moratorium gives us time to study this issue and implement regulations that will prevent our roadsides from becoming cluttered with billboards.”

On Tuesday, Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that with the new US 17 bypass around Windsor, and with it the possibility of numerous billboards, Bertie County needed “to get ahead of the game.”

“It’s wide open (for outdoor advertising) from Midway to US 13,” Lamb said of the bypass, which is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2008. “This one-year moratorium simply gives us more time to study the issue of ensuring that our local highways do not become an endless avenue of billboards.”

Only one person spoke during Monday’s public hearing. Windsor businessman Mark Rawls said he had recently began the process of obtaining easements in order to erect outdoor advertising. He asked if easements were part of a business owner’s premises, to which Lloyd Smith, legal counsel to the Bertie Commissioners, said no. Smith told Rawls his plans for outdoor advertising would fall under the moratorium.

Prior to Monday’s adoption of the moratorium, the only areas of Bertie County where outdoor advertising is prohibited was US 17 from Midway to the Eden House Bridge as well as NC 45 from Midway to the San Souci Road (SR 1500), which connects with Cooper Hill Road (NC 308).

According to Lamb, those stretches of road are protected as scenic byways, part of the Albemarle Historic Tour Highway, and no billboards are allowed with the exception of those already in place.