The Wilkesboro Town Council on Monday approved the rezoning of three lots on Main Street, each with houses that have been used for business purposes, from general business to general residential.

The council also tabled action on a proposed revised sign ordinance, allowing more time for public input and to consider making modifications to the ordinance.

Rezoning approval

The request to rezone the three parcels—at 607, 609 and 611 Main Street—from general business to general residential was made by Junior Goforth, a businessman and former North Wilkesboro commissioner.

Goforth said he plans to buy them from John and Linda Myers of Wilkesboro. The same request was denied by the council in July 2019.

Town Manager Ken Noland said that after a public hearing on the matter was held June 8, he received two written comments from nearby business owners opposing the rezoning.

Councilman Russ Ferree made the motion to approve the rezoning, which was recommended by the town planning board.

Joining Ferree in voting for it were council members Nellie Archibald and Andy Soots, while Jimmy Hayes voted against it.

Hayes also voted no in 2019, citing safety concerns of residences in a largely industrial area.

On June 8, Goforth shared artistic renderings of the properties, showing fenced-in front yards between the buildings and Main Street. He said the fences would be installed for safety.

Goforth said he wanted to renovate the buildings and rent them to families with children. Each is a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house on about a quarter acre of land. Earlier, he said he would rent them for $700-$900 a month to attract what he called “high-quality renters.”

Noland said on June 8 that John Wishon, owner of nearby WWWC radio station, and Alex Turner, owner of nearby Fastway Fuelex, both opposed to the rezoning. Both businesses are on the north side of Main Street. The three lots are on the south side.

Goforth said he would eliminate one or two of the three access points to the properties on Main Street. He also said he agreed with no parking along the street in front of the parcels, with the main parking area being behind them.

The three houses, between Perry’s Service Center and Wilkesboro Drive-In Cleaners and Shirt Laundry, have identical footprints and originally were homes. All three were later rezoned to their current classification, B2, to allow general business. 

Jim Isley, listing Realtor for the parcels, said in an earlier public hearing on the rezoning request that Goforth planned to “put nice homes in there” that would increase property values.

He said the properties have been on the market at least 13 years.

Sign ordinance tabled

Noland said Monday that since a June 8 public hearing on a proposed sign ordinance, he had received 10 public comments and all were against the temporary banner section of the ordinance.

Seth Cohn, co-owner of Dooley’s Restaurant and Two Boros Brewery on Main Street, said on June 8 that he was against the ordinance because it targeted small businesses on Main Street.

“We’re one of those businesses that has constant changes to our signs.”

He noted that it stipulates that he would have to wait 60 days before installing another temporary banner if he removed one at Dooley’s.

Mayor Mike Inscore recommended that the vote be delayed to allow for discussion of potential modifications to the ordinance.

The council unanimously approved continuing the dialogue on Aug. 3 at 5:30 p.m. The council traditionally does not hold a regular meeting in July.

Councilman Andy Soots said on June 8, “I’m really not happy with the ordinance, because it seems like we’re getting more restrictive on our small businesses and letting our bigger businesses get by with it. Let’s all play by the same rules.” He referred to signage and an inflatable tube man at the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken processing complex.

Councilman Russ Ferree said earlier, “I think it’s wonderful to have an ordinance that actually has the merit to be called an ordinance. We’re going to something from nothing, and we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

The ordinance, previously discussed by the council on March 2, would ban new, off-premises billboards and other new outdoor advertising signs, with certain exceptions.

These signs are currently allowed if they are no closer than 1,000 feet to other off-premises advertising signs.

Existing non-conforming permanent signs “shall be grandfathered (deemed a vested right)” until the sign is “removed, physically altered beyond maintenance (as defined), relocated, damaged or destroyed” and brought into compliance.

“If a sign is made non-compliant by this code, it can remain in existence until it’s taken down by the owner or changed out by a new sign,” said Andrew Carlton, director of planning and community development, on June 8.

“The grandfathering does not have a time limit on it.”

The draft ordinance says existing non-conforming off-premises outdoor advertising signs may be disassembled and replaced with newer structures with the town zoning enforcement officer’s approval of a zoning permit. The replacement sign can’t be any larger than the old sign.

It also says non-conforming outdoor advertising signs can be replaced with digital signs of the same or smaller size that meet all other requirements, including being no more than 48 feet above adjacent land grade.

The ordinance allows temporary signs, defined as those displayed no more than six consecutive months in a calendar year, but restricts their size based on location. For example, temporary signs no larger than four square feet are allowed in residential districts and temporary signs no larger than 32 square feet are allowed in general business and industrial zones.

Temporary business signs, such as those for produce stands, street vendors and vendors at special events, are allowed to be displayed for seven or fewer consecutive days.

Carlton earlier said the draft sign ordinance is vastly different from the “burdensome” one on the books since 2010-11. “We spend way too much time interpreting the (current) sign code for sign companies.”

He said the draft ordinance gives consideration to “content neutrality.” He said an example is changing one sign with another without needing a new permit.

The ordinance changes the required length of time between messages on electronic signs from 30 seconds to eight seconds to align with the standard used by the N.C. Department of Transportation, said Carlton. Animation and flashing on digital signs are still prohibited.

Carlton said “the most exciting piece of the puzzle for staff” was the ordinance’s new master sign plan, which involves exceptions to code, if approved by the planning board, for advertising multiple businesses in one geographical area.

Carlton said on June 8 that snipe signs, which generally are those attached to stationary objects with nails or other materials, are prohibited

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