At its Sept. 28 session, City Council approved new standards for signs located in public rights-of-way. Generally, signs in rights-of-way are prohibited, city staff reminded Council, with some exceptions (directional signs and community-identification signs, like the new ones for Pack Place and in Haw Creek -- see "Just the Facts"). Political signs, yard-sale signs and advertisements, such as "lose 30 pounds in 30 days," are all illegal when placed in public rights-of-way or on telephone poles.
Before Council voted on the new standards, Mayor Leni Sitnick wanted to know why city staff weren't fining repeat offenders -- particularly the advertisers for lose-weight and summer-job schemes.
Zoning Code Enforcement Administrator Sharon Allen replied that the law required due process -- notification first, a chance for the offender to remove the sign, before being summoned to court and, if found guilty, fined. "We have done that in some situations," Allen noted.
But it's less costly -- and faster -- to have city sanitation crews simply remove the signs during the course of their regular garbage-pickup routes. Said Council member Chuck Cloninger, "I'd rather we just take 'em down, wouldn't you?"
And Council member Earl Cobb observed, "Yard sales are part of our culture." He urged the city to come up with some arrangement allowing such signs.
Efforts along those lines are already underway, Sitnick noted: Neighborhood groups and city staff are considering kiosk stations where yard-sale and lost-pet signs could be posted. Sitnick also mentioned that it would be a courtesy if those posting such signs -- including political ones -- would remove them within 24 hours after the event (or election).
Joked Cobb -- who's up for reelection this fall -- "I wouldn't mind if they took them all down, as long as they leave mine up."
Comments aside, Council's new standards for signs in rights-of-way were adopted on a motion by Vice Mayor Ed Hay, seconded by Council member Barbara Field. The new standards reduce the maximum number of signs allowed in rights-of-way from three to two, increase the number of sign faces allowed from three to four, require notification of adjacent property owners, and mandate review of sign permits by Public Works staff, the city traffic engineer, and Planning and Development staff.
Tougher zoning-code enforcement
Build something or do something forbidden under the city's zoning classifications or sign ordinance, and city staff can require you to tear it down or cease the activity. That's the heart of tougher enforcement procedures that Asheville City Council members approved at their Sept. 28 formal session.
"Will this, in effect, speed up ... enforcement?" asked Hay, before Council voted on the proposal.
Enforcement Administrator Allen said she wasn't sure, but noted that it will give city staff enforcement options they used to have prior to the adoption of the Unified Development Ordinance, and that it might help the city avoid having to take violators to court.
But Field complained -- as she has when the proposal was discussed in past work sessions -- that the new enforcement guidelines give the city the authority to force someone to "destroy their own property."
Assistant City Attorney Patsy Meldrum remarked that the changes are meant to give staff more enforcement authority when something is built or done that affects public safety, interferes with pedestrian access, or otherwise violates city and state codes.
Said Mayor Sitnick, "This [change] helps us when someone does something without [first getting] a permit."
Council member O.T. Tomes -- who had appeared to nod off several times during the meeting -- perked up at this comment. "I'm wondering if ... the populace understands the legal ramifications," he said, and cited the case of a man selling tomatoes -- without a permit -- on the roadside (Tomes confessed to buying some, recently). Tomes recounted that the merchant had recently been told he couldn't sell his wares without a permit. Tomes then asked Allen if staff is adequately informing the public about zoning rules.
She replied that for all zoning-code violations, staff first contact violators, inform them of the relevant city codes, and give them time to remedy the situation. The next step is a formal notification of violation.
"I don't think the populace understands," said Field, repeating her concerns.
"With all due respect [to Field], I do think most people understand [that], if they're going to do something, they need to get a permit," Sitnick countered. She insisted the tighter enforcement was particularly applicable to repeat offenders and blatant violations.
On a motion by Hay, seconded by Cloninger, the enforcement amendments were adopted unanimously.
Tower on hold
Revisions to the city's telecommunications-tower ordinance have been postponed, time and again, this year. At the Sept. 28 formal session, Council members cited the long-awaited revisions as a reason for another postponement, this one to consider a proposed tower for a Tunnel Road site, near McGuffey's Restaurant.
Council member Cloninger, who's pushed for the ordinance revisions and stricter conditions for towers, argued that it was important for Council to consider the new revisions before voting on American Tower's request for a new tower. One of the proposed revisions, he noted, might make it easier for American Tower to co-locate its antennae on a nearby Bell South tower. And, Cloninger added, Council members got the information on American Tower's request just days before Council's meeting. "I'd like more time," said Cloninger.
American Tower representative John Crotty disagreed with this sentiment, pointing out that his company had met "every word and every line" of the existing ordinance, which he called one of the strictest in the country. Crotty also remarked that his company and others have been on hold for the better part of a year, awaiting the revisions. He urged Council to hear their case that night. "It's a fairness issue," he said, adding that co-location with Bell South is "a very speculative issue."
Assistant City Attorney Meldrum mentioned that Council needed to take into account some time restrictions imposed in the city's existing ordinance: Council is obligated to consider American Tower's request within 35 days of Sept. 24, the date of receipt of documents.
"Haven't we, by opening the public hearing [tonight], considered it?" Cloninger posed.
"[The ordinance] could be read that way," Meldrum replied.
"I'm considering it," said Vice Mayor Hay.
On a motion by Cloninger, Council postponed further consideration of American Tower's request until November.
Equal time for zoning foes
Citizens for Property Rights members want equal time: At Council's Sept. 21 work session, Buncombe County Zoning Administrator Jim Coman took more than 10 minutes to explain the county's proposed zoning ordinance, said CPR representative Carol Collins. What's more, the presentation was taped and aired on the city's government-access channel, Collins pointed out.
For these reasons, she urged Council to give zoning opponents an equal opportunity to present their case -- and have it broadcast for the viewing public.
Council members hemmed and hawed over her request, insisting they haven't endorsed the zoning proposal, noting that city voters need to be informed about it, and explaining how and why the presentation was broadcast (work sessions aren't normally taped and broadcast; but on this occasion, Asheville City High School teens -- instead of Council's usual paid crew -- taped the show for broadcast).
Council member Chuck Cloninger interjected into the discussion, "We shouldn't be sheepish about this. We should take a stand [on the zoning issue]." Cloninger said he supports countywide zoning, but agrees with Collins that all sides should be heard before the issue comes up for a referendum vote on Nov. 2. Gesturing toward the camera taping the night's session, Cloninger added, "If it's any consolation, this meeting will be aired, [and] you've probably had more time than Jim Coman [did]."
At Cloninger's suggestion, Council agreed to give CPR a chance to air its views at an upcoming formal session.