The town began prohibiting portable, marquee type signs in 1988. Smaller, wire-framed signs, a more recent invention, are also prohibited under most circumstances without a permit.
While the wire-frame signs are best used for promoting political candidates and community events like the Celebration on the Square and Melfest, businesses, too, have taken advantage of their affordability. Like mushrooms after a rainstorm, the signs sprouted everywhere for some time, pushing everything from housepainting to home mortgage refinancing.
To subject events like the Celebration and MelFest-both of which bolster community pride, bring lots of visitors to the area, and help promote our community-to the same standards as for-profit businesses is ludicrous. The most basic zoning guideline all town leaders in North Carolina must consider is whether the surrounding property values are affected, or the health and welfare of the community at large will be harmed.
In the case of truly temporary signs like those for the Celebration or MelFest, there can be no question that whatever minor problems would be caused by a handful of small signs would be inconsequential to the greater benefits.
For long-term businesses, the issue is entirely different, and to judge a community-promoting event by the same standards is unreasonable at best, and over-regulation at its worst.
As one event organizer put it, this is still a small town, not Cary or some other big city where a lack of community spirit makes people crave more regulation. To emulate the mistakes made by those towns is not being progressive-it's taking away the independent spirit that makes people flee those larger communities for small towns like ours.
The biggest uproar in the sign controversy has to do with the portable marquee signs banned since 1988, but still in use throughout the town.
Town officials just recently began cracking down on the signs, despite the protestations of several business owners-include-ing one town council member-that they didn't know the signs were forbidden. Several local businesses had already modified their signs to become permanent markers.
Monday's decision by the Elizabethtown Town Council to seek a compromise, allowing the signs under some circumstances, was a good one.
Nobody-no resident, visitor, businessman, or council member-wants to see a sea of blinking lights all over town. At the same time, marquees can, if well-main-tained and properly permitted, be an effective tool for promoting local business.
Their willingness to seek a balance between the needs of the community and the need to promote business is a good mark for the Elizabethtown Town Council.
The Planning Office, whose employees were subjected to a lot of grief in the past weeks, was only enforcing the rules as council instructed. To admit things could be better, and seek ways to improve matters, is an example of why small town government, like small towns, can be shining examples of democracy in action.
Elizabethtown is not Cary, thank goodness, and we hope the town council keeps it that way. We have enough towns like Cary, and nowhere near enough like Elizabethtown.