The Wilkesboro council introduced a new sign ordinance at its meeting Monday night. The town planner emphasized then that reasons to do this included to promote business activity and manage potential problems.

Councilman Andy Soots asked if this was really needed, particularly now? The response was essentially that there aren’t really any sign problems now as most issues of enforcement are related to waste management, abandoned vehicles and minimum housing standards.

The concept of sign standardization is not new, but the addition of further restrictions placed upon small businesses (particularly now when they are suffering even more) in favor of the larger more profitable businesses seems not just improper but definitely inconsistent with the suggestion it’s for promoting business activity.

A few of the new proposed rules stand out.  

Presently, a business can put up a banner or temporary sign for 30 days and then change it as long as it continues to appear in good condition. No costs apply to put these up or permit them presently.

The new ordinance not  only restricts these but favors the business that can afford the new expensive digital and billboard signage, which often costs $1,000 or more per month  In the proposed ordinance the 30 day rule is removed and a small business can only place this banner/temporary sign up for 30 days and for only four times per calendar year with a 60-day separation between permits and installations.

In other words, four promotional signs per year and no more. While this may not seem restrictive to some, you must consider how it will affect the small car lot owner, a retail business, a hair salon or a new business for example. If the salon wants to welcome three new stylists, promote the desire to welcome new customers or offer discounts to students or seniors seasonally, the business owner will need to choose which four out of all of these to display and promote that entire year.

Then, the business owner will only be able to do this with a 60 day separation between them after applying for, being approved for and paying for a permit.

The car retailer desiring to promote special car sales, oil change specials, car clean up specials or even welcome a new salesman, etc. will be limited this way as well.

The small retailer desiring to promote a fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s sale (all occurring within three months) or other seasonal promotions won’t be able to put up the temporary banners now allowed.

What about a brand new business? A sign announcing its opening, a sign seeking new employees, a grand opening sign and the specials they will want to offer will all be subject to the limit of one every three months.

They will each be subject to an application and approval with no defined time in the proposed ordinance to comply, having to obtain this permit and having to paying a fee the town council that hasn’t yet established. In a few months, they will have to do it all over again. Compare this to the larger businesses that can pay for billboards that will now be allowed (in the ordinance) to be digital and change every eight seconds (not four times per year).

While some private properties like the movie theater were given special considerations by the town and allowed to install digital signage that changes over and over, other small businesses won’t automatically be allowed this or simply can’t afford it. There is no fee or permitting required for them changing signs, yet the council proposes this for small business.

The issue of allowing some to get favorable status so they can promote and change their messages has now been recommended to be “every eight seconds or more” in the new ordinance. It does not seem fair for the struggling small businesses to be limited to changes four times yearly under the guise of saying it promotes business activity. Simply most small businesses are unable to afford these expensive advertising alternatives.

The solution is to make changes in the ordinance that impact all business and persons equally and don’t further restrict the struggling small business to promoting the business with a small window sign and others proposed. We already have too many rules and laws that restrict us as Americans, so why make even more that benefit some and restrict those who can least afford it.

Finally, if the town proposes a permitting process, it should be clearly stated in these ordinances and made simple and without a fee, just like the electronic media have none. Progress should not have to come at the expense of small businesses because it can lead to a greater decline among them, more vacancies, more costs for them and greater unemployment and suffering, particularly in our small town.

Voice your opinion prior to the June 15 reading of the proposed sign ordinance and approval of these changes.

R. ERNEST COHN,

Cohn Enterprises Inc. president,

Wilkesboro, N.C.

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