A proposed amendment to the Surry County zoning ordinance became a hot topic at Monday’s meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners, with one commissioner even accusing another of holding what he deemed to be an improper discussion with planning board members.
If approved the proposed amendment, which was recommended by the county’s planning board, would have only allowed billboards to be placed on property that is zoned a “manufacturing industrial district.” However, after heated discussion the board of commissioners chose to table the proposed change to the ordinance.
Currently, billboards are allowed to be constructed in any area zoned as “highway business.” Though local resident Don Minor started the discussion during the board’s open forum portion of the meeting, Commissioner Paul Johnson took the discussion to another level once the public hearing on the proposed ordinance began.
“I was once told by the county attorney that it was improper for me to discuss matters with a planning board member,” said Johnson. Johnson went on to accuse Commissioner Eddie Harris of prompting the proposed change to the county’s zoning ordinance, referring to emails that led him to believe Harris was pushing the issue with members of the planning board.
Harris said that he’s no fan of billboards, and that he has voiced concern regarding a proliferation of them in Surry County in multiple public venues. “I saw some email chains and received some phone calls,” said Harris. “If anybody is suggesting that I had any undue influence with the planning board they are grossly inaccurate.”
Harris said his concerns regarding billboards are, in short, that billboards detract from the value of Surry County’s landscape and its natural resources. Harris said the billboard issue must reflect “who we want to be as a county.”
Former County Commissioner Gary York, who said that he has been in the billboard business since 1981, spoke against the measure to eliminate billboards in most of Surry County. York told commissioners that all of his billboards are “leased to local companies which hire local people.”
York said the proposed legislation would effectually place a moratorium on billboards in the county, a move that he believes would place some local residents in the unemployment line.
Commissioner Jimmy Miller called the proposed measure “kind of ridiculous.” “They would only be allowed in a couple of places in the county,” commented Miller.
Commissioner Larry Phillips weighed in saying, “there’s no balance in this (ordinance),” before saying that the proposed legislation “goes a little far in its reach.”
“Finding a balance may be heavy lifting for the planning board, but I think that they should do that lifting,” said Phillips.
Upon the motion of Phillips, the board chose to table the legislation until November in hopes of allowing the public time to weigh-in on the matter.
In another zoning matter, a public hearing on a conditional rezoning for a Family Dollar store on Old Westfield Road was continued in order to allow members of the public to speak on the matter at the board’s Sept. 8 meeting. Another rezoning measure for a Family Dollar in Lowgap was approved.
Prior to the rezoning matters, the board heard the county’s annual tax settlement. Surry County Tax Administrator Michael Hartgrove told board members that the county netted about $1 million more last fiscal year than the board had budgeted. Hartgrove said that the additional funds were partly a result of collections on motor vehicle taxes and collecting unpaid emergency services debts.
The board also approved funding for the Emergency Services Department to purchase a $27,000 Ford Explorer to replace an aging Dodge Durango in its consent agenda. Additionally, Emergency Services Director John Shelton received the board’s approval to go ahead with an upgrade to the telephone system at the county’s 911 call center.
The next meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners will take place on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. Commissioners chose to move the meeting time to 4 p.m., rather than the normal 6 p.m. meeting time, in order to accommodate a request from County Attorney Ed Woltz. Woltz has a meeting in King, which he also represents, on the same date.
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or [email protected]