Lake Norman & Mooresville

New rules for signs bring change

Starting in January, Cornelius officials will enforce a new ordinance that they hope will make signs more uniform and attractive throughout the town.

Passed at the Nov. 15 commissioners meeting, the new ordinance details several requirements for signs, banners and even logos.

Commissioners updated the town's sign ordinance after residents complained of inconsistencies in the signage around town, said town commissioner James Bensman.

"A fair amount of the ordinance hadn't been updated in a very long time," he said. "This is meant to raise the standards for signs in our town and make them more attractive."

Mayor Pro Tem Lynette Rinker said the general opinion in town has always been that the old sign ordinance didn't work, but no one could figure out how to make it better.

"This new ordinance is marked by its flexibility," she said. "It's a way of meeting the needs of the business community while still maintaining our town's aesthetic quality."

Bensman said the town held several meetings with affected parties such as business owners in the months leading up to the vote, and many said the changes would end up helping their business, not hurting it.

Although the ordinance has been in effect since Dec. 1, the town will not begin enforcement until Jan. 1. Among some of the new requirements for signs:

A building with multiple tenants have only been able to use a maximum of 10 percent of the outside wall space, regardless of how much of the building they occupy. Now, there will also be a maximum lettering height based on the square footage of those buildings.

Logos on signs can be a maximum of 36 inches, up from 24 inches. The logo's size will still be included in the calculation of the sign's total area.

Signs posted in the ground are now subject to a list of design criteria, which is detailed in the new sign ordinance.

Banners related to civic events, store openings and going-out-of-business sales have always been allowed but now other types of banners are permitted provided the owner gets a permit from the town. Business owners with permits can hang signs for a total of 63 days per year for a minimum of 7 days at a time.

For real-estate signs in residential areas, the standard was only 6 square feet maximum, and those in non-residential areas could only be 32 square feet maximum. The town kept the standards for signs in residential areas, and lowered the square footage of signs in non-residential areas to 16 square feet. Signs in non-residential areas are also not to exceed six feet in height, per the new ordinance.

If the advertised real-estate property is more than 20 acres agents may request a permit from the town for additional signage subject to approval by the zoning administrator.

Gas stations become the only business that can use LED lighting to display gas prices on their signs.

Signs legal under the old ordinance will be grandfathered in, said Becky Partin, communications specialist in the planning department.

Partin said the new ordinance is a step in the right direction.

"It's a bit of an adjustment in understanding all that the ordinance says, and we know we'll have a few bumps in the road with enforcement," she said. "But this is going to help maintain the quality of life residents have come to expect and want in Cornelius."

The town also approved plans at its November meeting to begin a way-finding street sign project that will last for several years.

The project would consolidate individual signs for restaurants, hotels and gas stations into a uniform sign on off-ramps. The town would also purchase "Welcome to Cornelius" signs shaped as sailboats and stationed at the major entry points of the town, such as Exit 28 on Interstate 77.

To complete the nautical theme, the town will also change all of its street signs from green to blue, and those new signs have already been ordered for portions of W. Catawba Avenue..

"This is going to dress up the community, and it's going to help local businesses," said Bensman.

Officials are expecting it to cost about $200,000.

Cornelius commissioners will discuss the project in January planning for next year's budget, which is expected to be adopted in June.