Newton still mulls sign rules

After Newton approved new rules for sidewalk signs downtown last month, area businesses and civic clubs hope city leaders will loosen restrictions on temporary signs announcing fund-raisers, grand-openings or other special sales.

Relaxing city policy on short-term, promotional signs isn't coming easy, however.

During its November meeting Tuesday, Newton City Council is expected to consider a proposal to allow commercial and non-commercial entities to post temporary signs for up to one week without obtaining a permit. A proposed ordinance amendment would also not set any quantity or location limit on businesses or civic clubs posting the signs, "provided such signs do not create a hazard to public safety."

The proposed amendment to Newton's temporary sign rules has been supported by the city's mayor, but Newton's planning commission has voted against making any change to the city's current sign policy.

The proposal set for consideration Tuesday focuses on temporary signs that could be placed at intersections and within rights-of-way. Proposed changes to the city's sign ordinance came after Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax received requests from citizens, he told the city's planning commission in August.

Specifically, Mullinax told the planning commission that businesses, such as Catawba Valley Supply and Midway Carpet, as well as civic groups such as Kiwanis and Lions clubs, and the Newton-Conover High School band boosters, approached city leaders about changes to the Newton temporary sign ordinance.

Mullinax asked the Newton Planning Commission to consider ordinance changes that allow signs to be placed without a permit, and that allow the opportunity for on-premise and off-premise signs. Those changes make the ordinance "more palatable" to citizens, he told the planning commission, according to minutes from the Aug. 23 meeting.

Mullinax also told the city's planning commission that changes to the temporary sign ordinance allow for more consistent code enforcement for city staff.

After Mullinax's request to the planning commission, the appointed body took up the matter in September and continued discussion in October, according to Newton Planning Director Glenn Pattishall.

"The commission at its October meeting ... after lengthy deliberation voted in favor of keeping the existing ordinance with no changes," Pattishall said in a memo to Newton City Council.

Newton City Council considers a proposal to change the city's temporary sign rules Tuesday night. However, in order for a change to the city's code to occur, the planning commission must first hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance and make a recommendation to the council, according to Pattishall. To avoid an "invalid ordinance" Newton City Council must also hold a public hearing, Pattishall said in a memo to city leaders.

In October, Newton City Council set new rules for sidewalk signs placed by businesses in the city's central business district. The new policy set standards for sign size, design and placement, and required businesses to obtain a permit at no cost. New rules approved in October apply to portable signs a business can place within a foot of its storefront.

Newton City Council meets in the Council Chambers at Newton City Hall at 7 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.