Stalemate – again!

Published 11:34 am Wednesday, March 21, 2012

GATESVILLE – For the second time in two months the Gates County Board of Commissioners found themselves locked in a stalemate.

The latest deadlock came here March 7 where the board, minus one member in the absence of Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan, voted 2-2 when attempting to approve a sign ordinance.

At their February meeting the board, with Commissioner Jack Owens absent, failed to reach consensus (also a 2-2 vote) in applying $100,000 from the county’s General Fund Balance to help reduce its long term debt.

Gates County Planning Director Morgan Jethro presented the sign ordinance to the commissioners for their consideration at the March 7 meeting. Jethro kept her presentation simple and to the point, basically going over what types of signs were permissible and which were not. She said the purpose of implementing a sign ordinance was to limit the visual distraction to motorists and preserve land values.

Jethro said blinking, flashing or moving signs would top the list of signs deemed as distracting. She added there were a great number of signs that were exempt from the ordinance, to include those that are less than six feet in total area, construction signs, traffic signs, religious signs, campaign signs, no trespassing signs, no hunting signs, real estate signs, etc.

Existing signs deemed non-conforming to the proposed ordinance would be grandfathered into the document.

Dan Bazemore of Eure was the only citizen to speak during a public hearing held on the proposed ordinance. He was curious of how the new regulations, if approved, would affect a sign he erected, at the county’s request, 12-to-15 years ago. Jethro told Bazemore that as long as he did not alter the sign the way it is currently, it would fall under the “grandfather” clause of the ordinance.

Owens, at the close of the public hearing, motioned for the adoption of the ordinance as presented.

In ensuing discussion, Commission Vice Chairman Henry Jordan likened the proposal to “another law.”

“One of the things our citizens have a problem with is our zoning ordinance,” Jordan said. “We’ve got a zoning ordinance on the books that needs modification. It’s not citizen friendly as I think it should be. Now we’re putting two more ordinances in (the board, earlier in the meeting, discussed, and then tabled, a possible new landscaping ordinance) on top of needing to fix the zoning ordinance.”

Jordan suggested including the sign ordinance into the zoning ordinance.

“Make it applicable to the specific areas we’re concerned about, commercial areas and so forth,” he said. “As a small, rural county I don’t see where we really should be that enthused about another ordinance. That’s my opinion; there’s nothing wrong with the concept or idea, but I think the citizens of this county would feel the same way…another law that has to be enforced.”

“My intent in making my motion is to close the gate before the horse gets out,” Owens said. “We are a growing community and I believe the opportunity for us to come back and revisit these things will happen. We don’t need to cave in; stand by this ordinance and entertain (those challenges).”

Owens cited a current need for a sign ordinance, saying there was a county resident with a huge sign erected at the edge of their driveway.

“My intent is to not let those things happen,” Owens stressed. “If someone wants to put up a sign then they’ll have to follow the ordinance or ask for an exception.”

“We have a zoning ordinance that was passed with that same thought in mind – to amend it as we go along and very little amending has been done on it; what has been done we’ve done recently,” board chairman Graham Twine said. “I’m like Henry, I’d like to see this as part of our zoning ordinance. I’m concerned about those who already have signs; if they change them they would fall under this ordinance. It could cost you several thousand dollars just to change a sign…that’s a problem in a rural county.”

Commissioner John Hora offered a second to Owens’ motion, but that effort wound-up in a stalemate when Jordan and Twine voted against the sign ordinance while Owens and Hora were in favor.

“I will be willing to bring this back up at another time,” Twine said following the vote. “I’m not totally against it; I think we need some more discussion on it.”


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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