Sunday, January 16, 2022

Surf City business owners help draft amendments to ease business sign regulations, two approved

At last week's Planning Board meeting, two out of four amendments to the town's sign ordinance were approved. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
One approved amendment, now set to appear for a vote before the Town Council, would allow for businesses to display banners and flags in addition to a freestanding sign. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

The town’s Community Development Department relied on a group of business owners when drafting more permissive commercial sign regulations.

SURF CITY — The town’s Planning Board has approved two of four amendments — recently drafted using suggestions from a group of Surf City business owners — to ease regulations for commercial business signs in the town code.

Last Thursday, the Planning Board approved zoning amendments to set more permissive regulations for temporary signs. However, other amendments were struck down that would have allowed for larger window signs and for smaller businesses to construct freestanding frontage signs.

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The approved amendments will now go to a vote before Town Council next month where there will be a time for public comments.

Crafted from suggestions by business owners

According to the meeting agenda, all suggested amendments proposed for commercial sign regulations had been “crafted from suggestions from a group of Surf City business owners” with procedural assistance from the Community Development Department.

“The staff neither supports nor opposes these changes but offers them in good faith,” the agenda stated. “Had a group of citizens come forward that were against more permissive signage regulations, the staff would have offered the same service.”

According to GIS technician Mike Dickson, who has helped oversee the amendment proposals for the Community Development Department, Dickson met with a group of business owners in late April to decide what parts of the sign ordinance they should try to get changed.

In an email addressed to business owners the following week, Dickson thanked the group for their help in the decision, particularly those who researched and studied other towns’ ordinances.

When reached on Monday, both Dickson and Allan Libby, the town’s public information officer, said they had no comment on the matter. They were asked if it is a common practice for the town to draft zoning amendments by using suggestions from a group of citizens — in this case, a group of business owners.

In an email to constituents in early April, Councilman Jeremy Shugarts said he was against some provisions in the sign ordinance as it currently stands.

“While I have long been in favor of a code enforcement officer for issues such as cart rollbacks, property maintenance, unleashed pets on the beach, individuals playing on the dunes, and illegal parking, I find that I do not agree with some provisions of the sign ordinance as it exists,” Shugarts said. “I understand that we must have some standards or mayhem will take place, but I hope that other council members will recognize the need to assist the businesses in our community by making sensible revisions to the ordinance.”

Shugarts, who is running for the mayor’s seat in the upcoming November municipal elections, is also a business owner in Surf City.

Approved amendments

The rules in question appear in the zoning appendix of the town’s code of ordinances in Section 6. The approved amendments are below:

Appx. A. §6.7 Types of commercial signs permitted (6) Temporary signs

The Planning Board approved an amendment that would allow for a flag or banner in addition to a freestanding sign, preferably an A-frame sign, provided the following:

  1. Signs and flags are erected during open business hours.
  2. An A-frame does not exceed 8 square feet or five feet in height.
  3. Commercial flags and banners do not exceed 24 square feet in area and 15 feet in height.
  4. Signs and flags are on the same property as the business, “providing a reasonable vehicular sight line, and not within the public right of way. The exception to this is the allow of one A-frame sign may be placed on the sidewalk.”
  5. The sign is not inflatable.

Another approved amendment allowed for businesses to display bulletin boards; the current law only allows for churches, schools, and community centers to display such signage.

Denied amendments

Appx. A. §6.6 Commercial and business signs; size computations

The amended text attempted to enlarge the portion of business windows allowed for the hanging of signs. The ordinance currently states that both temporary and permanent signs “do not exceed a combined maximum of 25 percent of the total window area.”

The proposed amendment changed this threshold to 50 percent of the total window area but was denied by the Planning Board.

Appx. A. §6.7 Types of commercial signs permitted (1) Permanent freestanding signs

The amendment would have allowed smaller businesses to construct permanent freestanding signs. The current ordinance states that the minimum lot frontage for such a sign is 50 feet; the amendment attempted to change this parameter to 20 feet.

It also added, “If a shopping center or multi-tenant sign already exists on-site, a business may not erect their own separate freestanding sign.

The public June 4 Town Council meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Surf City Community Center, located at 201 Community Center Drive.

Below you can read a report, provided by Dickson, outlining how the Planning Board voted on the sign ordinance text amendments on May 9. The report also includes the board’s approval of a 346-unit luxury apartment complex called Evolve Surf City Crossing.

Mark Darrough can be reached at

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