Local News

Cary, Billboard Company at Odds Over Sign Ordinance

Posted November 15, 2007 8:22 p.m. EST
Updated November 15, 2007 11:20 p.m. EST

— A Triangle town known for its tight restrictions on appearance is in the middle of a dispute about what the town calls pole signs.

Cary's planning department says two billboards – one for South Hills Mall and the other belonging to Fairway Outdoor Advertising and east of the intersection of East Chatham Street and Maynard Road  – do not conform to the town's sign ordinance.

The ordinance, adopted by Town Council in 2003, does not allow signs to sit on freestanding poles or other support structures. Sign owners had until July 1, 2006, to come into compliance.

Cary's ordinance also requires that a sign be on the same property as the business it is promoting.

That poses problems for Fairway, according to general manager Paul Hickman. He says the company is willing to lower the sign to ground-level, but does not plan to remove the sign from its location.

"Our sign is our business, so there's a clear distinction," he said.

Town Planning Director Jeff Ulma disagrees, citing several hundred pages of city ordinances.

"The sign ordinance is as big today as the entire zoning ordinance for the town was when the town first adopted zoning in the '60s," he said.

Hickman has appealed to the town's zoning board to be able to keep the sign in its location. The board will consider the appeal next month.

"The sign's been there more than 50 years, nestled in the woods, doing a great job supporting local businesses and helping the community out for decades," Hickman said. "And now, all of a sudden, we need to take our business down?"

Both Fairway and South Hills Mall have been fined up to $500 for each day the signs remain in violation of the town ordinance. For South Hills, that is about $83,000. Fairway owes $51,350 as of Sept. 10, when it filed its appeal. The fines have stopped until the appeal is heard.

Ulma says the city will take both companies to court if it comes to that.