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Carolina Beach Council To Consider New Sign Ordinance Changes

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Town of Carolina Beach is preparing to amend their sign regulations to address temporary commercial signs, non-conforming signs and other issues.
The Town Council will consider an amendment at their upcoming June 12, regular meeting at 6:30pm at Town Hall. Last summer the Town Council put a hold on enforcing parts of the Town's sign ordinance concerning temporary signs until a resolution could be reached that would serve the needs of area business owners and resolve enforcement issues.
One problem cited by the Planning Department last summer was several businesses in Town utilizing banners as attached permanent signs and placing temporary signs in the right-of-way. That raised the question of how many such temporary signs would be permitted in situations such as shopping centers where there are numerous businesses at one location.
Planning Director Ed Parvin explained earlier this week, "At the April 10, 2012 Town Council meeting staff presented the recommended sign ordinance from the Planning and Zoning Commission.  Town Council gave staff comments to simplify and clarify the ordinance while keeping it business friendly."
Parvin explained, "It was discussed at the last meeting that a strict interpretation of the sign ordinance would prohibit a family from displaying a sign for a birthday party.  Language has been added to the purpose and intent to help remove this potential gray area."
He explained, "The definition of a sign has been simplified.  Removed from the definition and added to this section was the language that tells the administrator how a sign’s area and height are calculated."
Parvin said, "Attached signs have historically been required to be located on the façade of the building only. This language has been expanded to allow attached signs on porch railings and support posts. In the Central Business District (CBD) where there are no setbacks, the ordinance has historically allowed for projecting signs. These signs may project out 4’ perpendicular from the building.  An additional allowance has been added to state these signs may encroach up to 2 feet into the public right of way. This allowance is consistent with how many of the projecting signs were permitted on the boardwalk."
He explained, "There was an allowance for temporary signs to be displayed as part of the permanent sign allocation.  This is a fairly new regulation and has resulted in some aesthetic issues that are a concern for the Planning and Zoning Commission." He explained the proposed ordinance removes the allowance for additional attached temporary signs to eliminate the problem. 
Parvin explained the current sign ordinance allows for one Patriotic and decorative flag or banner per 25 feet of road frontage. He explained, "This can result in an overwhelming amount of signage.  The regulation has been reduced to allow 1 of these types of signs per 50 feet of road frontage, however the size restriction was modified based on comments from Town Council.  The current size limit is 15 square feet for flags and 20 square feet for banners.  This has been changed to a maximum of 24 square feet per flag or banner.  24 square feet is a common flag and banner size.  It has been used to create consistency throughout the temporary commercial, patriotic, and decorative sign allowances for banners and flags."
For temporary signs, Parvin said, "The allowances for temporary signs have been simplified to state that one temporary sign is allowed all year by each individual business. The business owners now have the flexibility to choose from an array of temporary sign options."
Parvin said a two-year "amortization clause" is being considered for removal from the ordinance. That called for signs that didn't comply with the zoning ordinance to be replaced within two years.
He explained now, "Nonconforming signs will fall under the same regulations as all other nonconforming structures regulated by zoning. This interpretation does not change how the Town has been operating.  Although the 2 year amortization clause has been in the ordinance for well over 2 years, staff has never actively enforced removal of nonconforming signs and based on the comments received from the previous and current Town Council, it is not our goal to require businesses with nonconforming signs to tear those out to come into compliance with today’s regulations."
He explained, "Removing the amortization language in Article 11 should coincide with an amendment to Article 18 dealing with nonconforming situations.  Since Article 18 was not considered by P&Z, the needed changes to this section will have to be adopted at a later date."
Parvin explained that removing this language means all signs will now fall under the regulations under Article 18.  That means the 50% rule will apply to nonconforming signs that are being refurbished.
He explained, "For example, if a freestanding sign that does not meet the setbacks is repaired then the owner/contractor must provide (1) the value of the current sign, and (2) the cost of construction for the repairs.  The cost of the construction must remain under 50%.  If the costs exceed this amount then the sign will have to meet all current regulations."
The Planning Commission will consider that change at their June 14, meeting at 7PM at Town Hall.  
Parvin explained enforcement will be consistent saying, "Allowing illegal signs to remain up for extended periods of time can create conflicts with competing businesses.  Allowing long periods of time for compliance can also have a detrimental impact on the town staff’s relationship with the community, as it appears to many business owners that we are enforcing double standards.  For this reason staff has recommended fines to begin no more than 48 hours after the first notice of violation."
Parvin said since the Town has not enforced the ordinance over the last year, "There will be some difficult conversations staff will encounter when beginning to enforce the new ordinance.  It was our goal to go through an educational effort to let folks know that the rules have changed.  However, due to the vast number of signs that have appeared this summer it was articulated by Town Council that we should begin enforcement as soon as possible.  Knowing this we have removed any delays in enforcement from the proposed language."
The Council will consider the proposed changes at their June 12, meeting and consider changes to the non-conforming section of the ordinance at their July meeting following review by the Planning Commission.