Billboard Language Revised
Southern Pines hopes that additional language on signs in its Unified Development Ordinance will make its regulation of billboards easier to understand.
At its last regular meeting, the Southern Pines Town Council held two public hearings - one on a text amendment to the town's sign ordinance and another for the rezoning of the Southern Pines Police Department's property - on which there was little to no public response.
Because there were no apparent concerns raised about either issue, the council approved both items unanimously.
The town of Southern Pines sponsored the sign ordinance text amendment in order to provide language in the document that defines the need for sign regulation standards, along with a clause addressing the replacement of noncommercial speech over commercial speech.
The proposed statement says the ordinance is necessary to preserve the town's "pleasing, visually attractive environment," and the regulations of the ordinance are not present to censor speech based on the content or viewpoint of a message.
The portion on noncommercial speech says that a commercial sign that has already been approved by the town can be changed to say a noncommercial message that is unrelated to the business located where the sign is erected if an owner chooses to do so.
The amendment also includes a severability clause, ensuring that the entire ordinance would remain intact if a problem with a particular portion of the ordinance is found and the language has to be thrown out in the future.
On Friday, Town Manager Reagan Parsons said that the changes are not directly related to a pending lawsuit regarding the sign ordinance, but he did say that the amendment makes the town's stance on billboards much clearer as a result of that filing.
"In no way is it related to some sort of settlement or outcome of that nature," he said.
In March, Gibson Outdoor Displays, a sign company in Aberdeen, filed a federal lawsuit in N.C. Middle Federal District Court against the town, alleging that the town's sign ordinance is unconstitutional.
Last year, Gibson wanted to place two large signs in the town's jurisdiction - one on a vacant lot next to Outback Steakhouse on U.S. 15-501 and another on U.S. 1.
The company had already made deals with the properties' owners to erect the signs.
In November 2009, the Southern Pines Planning Department denied each of Gibson's permit requests when the company submitted applications, saying "the content of the proposed signs did not relate to the premises upon which they were to be erected."
Gibson appealed the decision to the town's Board of Adjustment, but the board turned down the appeal in February for the same reason cited by town planning staff.
Parsons said that since the case was filed, the attorneys for both sides have been discussing whether or not there is a possibility for some form of settlement.
"It's just in the process at this point," he said.
The Southern Pines Planning Board recommended approval of the text amendment at its meeting Oct. 21.
The Town Council also approved the rezoning of the property on which the new Southern Pines Police Department sits from Central Business zoning to Facilities, Resources and Recreation zoning.
At the meeting, Parsons said that though the department is allowed in its current zoning, the town wanted to rezone the property so that it would be in the same zoning district as the rest of the town's properties.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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