Lake Norman & Mooresville

Cornelius looks to update its sign ordinance

Nonprofits and churches want Cornelius leaders to update the town’s sign ordinance so they can advertise fundraising efforts using temporary signs.

The current code allows signage with no size restrictions and no limitation on the number of signs – with the exception of temporary advertisements, also known as snipe or bandit signs. Snipe signs are generally made of corrugated cardboard and are placed on wire support poles.

The town does not allow snipes, except for real estate sale signs in the yard of a home for sale. State law exempts temporary election signs and places all regulatory enforcement with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Election signs are allowed, but only 30 days before the election and they must be taken down within five days after the election.

Town staff will discuss the issue with the Land Development Code Advisory Board on Nov. 11 and start the process of making changes to the ordinance.

Guerry Barbee, deputy fire chief for Cornelius-Lemley Fire Rescue, said the department placed its signs in locations around town one week before its decades-old chicken barbecue fundraiser event in October but were asked by the town to remove them because they didn’t meet the code.

In the past, once the fundraiser was over, a firefighter collected them, Barbee said. While customer traffic during the fundraiser was slower than normal, he said he wouldn’t attribute that to the fact the signs were taken down early.

“There were numerous other events occurring all over the north end of the county (that day),” he said. “But through social media efforts … we were able to sell all of the chicken. We did meet our goal for the fundraiser; however, it was a little unconventional.

“In the future we would hope that the town considers amending the sign ordinance to allow nonprofit agencies to advertise for local fundraisers.”

Town of Cornelius Planning Director Wayne Herron said there haven’t been any complaints about signs that are in violation and there have been no requests to post signs that may not meet the ordinance and need some type of grace period.

“The town has not issued any violations or citations,” Herron said.

“It is our policy with nonprofits, we never issue violations or citations. Never have. We always communicate. We know how hard it is for nonprofits. Volunteers come and go. People are busy and very often don’t think to call or find out what is allowed or not allowed.

“No organization is prevented from posting any of the other sign types in any quantity and size . ... Only the snipe and a person carrying a sign are prohibited. All other free-standing signs, banners and sandwich boards are all allowed.”

Town Board of Commissioner member Jim Duke also serves on the Land Development Code Advisory Board.

“What we have in Cornelius is an outdated ordinance that needs to be re-written with an exemption for charities and community groups for information and fundraising efforts,” Duke said. “The (advisory board) is in the process of reviewing the town’s codes and restrictions in order to bring them up to date.”

In the interim, Duke has asked the town manager to suspend the ordinance for the benefit of charities that are involved in fundraising until the issue can be reviewed.

“I believe that it is a no-brainer and modifications will be made,” Duke said. “It’s just a common-sense exemption for charitable groups promoting a single event. … That said, I don’t believe the ordinance has been officially suspended. I just know that the town manager is big on common-sense solutions.”

Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam said while sign restrictions are needed, he’s hopeful restrictions will be eased for churches and nonprofits.

“I encourage and expect this to be handled ASAP,” he said. “Signs are currently allowed under the ordinance as long as they meet certain criteria, which appears too restrictive. Enforcement seems to have become more intense – that is at least the perception of many citizens.”

Washam also supports the suspension of enforcement of the sign ordinance until further review. “Citizens expect our quick and clear response to this matter,” he said.