Saturday, December 9, 2023

Update: New Surf City law that would allow LED signs postponed to July vote

Surf City Council will vote on a new ordinance to allow LED message signs, like the sign pictured here on Market Street in Wilmington advertising an upcoming party. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

UPDATE (11:20 a.m.) — Surf City Council voted unanimously to delay a vote on allowing LED signs in commercial and office zoning districts to the council meeting on July 7.

Councilman Dwight Torres raised the issue late Tuesday morning during a council meeting, urging fellow councilmembers to consider more time for public input, especially until the minutes of the April Planning Board meeting are published. At that meeting, the board voted to approve a proposed ordinance that would allow LED signs (read its restrictions at the bottom of this article).

Councilman Don Helms made a motion to postpone the vote to July and to examine the issue at the June 19 workshop meeting, which would allow for public comment. Torres seconded the motion, followed by the rest of Council.

SURF CITY — Surf City Council will vote on a new ordinance to allow electronic copy LED signs for businesses in commercial and office zoning districts.

The vote will take place after a public hearing during a Town Council meeting on Tuesday morning. (Residents can leave public comments at 910-338-5510 and watch the meeting virtually here beginning at 10 a.m.).

RELATED: Surf City Planning Board tables vote to lift ban on LED signs for businesses

A vote will go before Council after the Planning Board originally tabled its own specific recommendations for LED signs and requested planning staff to address various concerns, including why certain nearby towns like Topsail Beach and Kure Beach opposed LED signs and what zoning districts would be allowed to display the signs.

Although the board voted to make a formal recommendation to Council, it tabled a vote on the proposed ordinance itself in order to make amendments, and again tabled a vote during its March meeting.

During the February motion to allow LED signs, only board member Jimmy Campbell voted against the motion to allow LED signs. He asked whether the town had only received three requests for LED signs to date, and Town Planner Amy Kimes responded that her staff had in fact only received three requests since she became the town planner in November. The town’s building inspector, Steve Padgett, noted that only three requests had been made within the past year.

But according to an agenda packet for the May 6 meeting, Kimes said that staff reached out to the board to request direction regarding the allowance of LED signs because “these sign requests are becoming more prevalent.”

During the March meeting, Kimes said that in her research of other municipalities that prohibited LED signs, the general concern was “of becoming a Myrtle Beach,” according to recorded minutes of the meeting. She also noted “that Pine Knoll Shores stated the LED signs would not keep with the character, history or beauty of their town.”

Mayor Doug Medlin asked how the town would measure the brightness of the signs in order to meet the proposed ordinance’s illumination requirements, also suggesting “not to adopt an item in the ordinance that could not be enforced,” according to the meeting minutes.

“Mrs. Kimes asked Jake Allen how did other towns monitor/enforce nighttime nits [the measuring unit of illumination level]. The Sign Guy stated other towns have an employee to traverse the town to observe nits and can visibly tell if they are too bright,” according to the meeting minutes.

In April, the board approved the ordinance (see its various restrictions at the bottom of this article) on a seven-to-one vote.

If approved by Council, the signs will only be allowed in G1 (Governmental), O/I (Office/Institutional), and C3 (Extended Entranceway Commercial) districts. They would not be allowed in other districts, including MU (Mixed Use) or C-1 (Central Business) districts.

In 2016, the town voted to allow LED signs in government districts, churches and schools, and gas stations (but only to display gas prices).

If approved, the new law will allow LED signs in Surf City's commercial and office zoning districts. (Courtesy Town of Surf City)
If approved, the new law will allow LED signs in Surf City’s commercial and office zoning districts. (Courtesy Town of Surf City)

Read the proposed ordinance’s restrictions below (minimal formatting edits have been made):

  • Electronic changeable copy (ECC) signs shall be a monumental sign only and limited to one sign per development or business if the business is not part of an overall development. 
  • These signs are allowed in Governmental (G1), Office and Institutional (O/I), and Extended (entranceway) Commercial (C-3) districts.
  • The changeable copy portion of a monument sign utilizing changeable copy technology may not exceed eight feet in height and must be 7.5 feet from all property lines.
  • The electronic changeable portion of the sign may not exceed 50% of the permitted sign face or 32 square feet.
  • Sign copy changes shall not change displays more frequently than once every 30 seconds. Public Emergency Messages/Public Service Announcements may change displays as frequently as once every five seconds only if the entirety of the sign face is comprised of the [public message] and no commercial message is displayed.
  • Blinking, flashing, flickering, oscillating, rotating, animation, or scrolling of the changeable area shall not be permitted. 
  • The sign shall not emit any sound or noise of any type.
  • Signs may not exceed a maximum illumination level of 0.3 foot candles above ambient light, regardless of the method of illumination. The 0.3 foot candles above ambient light shall be measured at a distance from the subject sign as noted in the table below.
  • Light trespass shall not exceed .3 foot candles at any property line.
  • All ECC signs shall be designed to freeze the sign in one position with no more than the maximum allowable illumination if a malfunction occurs.
  • All ECC signs shall be installed with light sensitive automatic dimming controls.
  • The changeable copy sign shall be limited to LED or similar low-intensity lighting. The stationary portion of the sign may be externally illuminated with down lighting so as not to affect the view of motorists. 
  • All ECC signs shall be static between 10 p.m. and dawn. 
  • No variations in light intensity during the static period of display are permitted. 
  • Prior to permitting, the applicant shall submit a signed letter from the sign manufacturer stating that the sign is equipped with the ability to comply with these regulations and provide FCC and UL certificates. The application shall also submit a signed letter from the sign owner or operator stating that they have read the regulations and will not tamper with the manufacturer preset illumination settings. 
  • Traditional signs, in compliance at the time of this ordinance, changing over LED bulbs to illuminate a sign are not included in this section of the ordinance and must still comply with all elements of the lighting ordinance for the town. 

Illumination level distance requirements:

Area of sign (sq. ft.)Measurement (ft.)

Send comments and tips to the reporter at or (970) 413-3815

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