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Public Use Signs Cause 'Consternation' for Commissioners
Town Board Meeting May 2021
May 11, 2021

ay’s Town Board meeting was supposed to be a short one, but a long and occasionally tense discussion about street signs dominated, and prolonged, the monthly meeting.

In attendance were Mayor Sally Belangia, Commissioners David White, Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, Diane Simmons, and Martin Barrow.

Neighboring residents object to signs for public streets
town hall sign At the Budget Retreat on March 5, the Parks and Recreation board introduced the idea of signage at the street ends of Wall St., King St., and Neuse St. These streets sit between private residential properties and end at the Neuse River. A bench is at the end of each one.

The street ends are public property – though not parks, and not closed or abandoned roads.

Since the March Budget Meeting, Commissioner David White spent time looking into signage for the street ends that would invite residents and visitors to walk to the end of the streets, sit on the bench, and enjoy the river views.

At the April meeting, Commissioners put the signage issue on the agenda and had a note sent to neighboring residents about the installation of the signs.

Resident Opposition
Owners of the Stallings House, adjacent to King St, sent in a letter opposing the street signs. Resident Jennifer Roe read from a prepared statement at the meeting, also opposing the signage.

The letter from the Stallings House asked that additional signage be added. “We expect that adding signs inviting people to use the benches will increase the instances of people trespassing onto private property, which is a liability concern for us. If the town posts the sign, you should include a warning that all adjacent properties are privately owned and trespassers may be fined or prosecuted. This may not be the friendly message the town wants to promote, but we feel it’s necessary in this day and age of increased litigation.”

Looking down Neuse Street to the river. The three street ends in question – Wall St., King St., and Neuse St. – are along South Ave.

Mrs. Roe opposed all signage, saying the street had been in use by her as off-street parking since asking for such at a series of town board meetings in 2001. Roe said other residents also opposed the ordinance, though they could not be in attendance, and encouraged the board to use the money for something else instead, stating that residents in Oriental were already aware of the streets, and signs weren’t needed.

Manager Miller noted that the street ends were in use by the different residents for different purposes, and that older town ordinances set the street ends at different places along the streets. At Neuse Street, the street ends at the river, with cars often parked on the road instead of South Ave. King Street, next to the Stallings House, has pillars and rope blocking off half of it. According to the ordinance, the drivable street ends there. Visitors to the the Stallings home park on King St, in front of the ropes. The rope and pilings on Wall St. marked the end of the drivable portion, but were washed away in Hurricane Florence and not replaced. Currently, a large tree branch from the neighboring property hangs over the road, obscuring the bench at the end.

New resident David Szerlag spoke, asking the board “do you really want to encourage people to go down to the river?” He added, “it’s not the intended use of the street.”

Commissioner White made a motion to install the signs at the street ends and also to put up signage for the adjacent properties stating “beyond this point is private property.” After the motion was seconded, Commissioners dived into the discussion.

Commissioner Discussion
Commissioner Martin Barrow said his thoughts on the matter had changed since listening to residents. He applauded Commissioner White’s efforts in pursuing the matter, but instead suggested a single sign at the harbor or at Lou Mac Park that showed the town docks, the parks, and the public spaces including the street ends – instead of singling out each road. He encouraged the board to look at this as an alternative.

a street sign inviting people to sit on a bench and look at the river.
The proposed sign for the street ends.
Commissioner Charlie Overcash said he liked the idea of one sign with all the information, but said, “whatever we decide on, I think we should ensure the privacy of people who live on either side of the street” with additional signage or an ordinance.

Commissioner Diane Simmons disagreed (as did Commissioner White) that everyone in town knew the roads were public property. “They are public property, so we should indicate they are for public use. But we should do everything we can to ensure that somebody isn’t wandering around your property or going down to your dock.”

Barrow replied he didn’t “think the town should take responsibility for putting up signs on someone else’s property.”

Frank Roe spoke up asking if all street ends would get the same signage treatment – specifically asking about those on Midyette Street. Overcash responded that the board was just addressing these streets.

Barrow advocated for a single sign again, saying, “After listening to both sides, I really do think it speaks to all the town has to offer to consolidate it and put it where everyone can see it.”

White said he’d sent the sign information, which included a mockup of the proposed sign, to all board members at the beginning of April, but hadn’t heard back from them. “This information is all new to me,” he said to Barrow. “Now you’re telling me the Board is moving on to something else or that you’re moving on to something else.”

Town Manager Miller interjected that there would be other ways to advertise the street ends and parks. She reminded the Board they could also table the discussion until another meeting.

“I don’t think we can get so far down the road that we can’t consider other options,” said Barrow.

White maintained the issue had been openly discussed and that he’d received no feedback from other commissioners about the work. “Since there is so much consternation on the Board itself, I withdraw the motion I put forward. The issue is tabled until the July Town Meeting when the Board will look at a public sign that consolidates the public spaces and parks onto one sign.”

Upcoming Public Hearings at the June Town Board Meeting:
There will be public hearings to address several issues in town ordinances:
• to clarify ADA animal compliance and add language for encroachment exception for ADA compliance.
• to regulate driveway width. This is a drainage issue for the town, says Manager Miller.
• to address inconsistencies in mobile home language on roof pitch.
• a public hearing on the budget. Miller said a balanced budget should be delivered by May 21.

Street Light Change/Removal Request Needs Research
In 2015, the town renewed a 10 year contract with Duke Energy who maintains and replaces the street lights in town. “What they did was come in and they took all the halogen lighting out and put in LEDs,” said Manager Miller, “which, unbeknownst to us, was twice as bright.”

Miller said she is starting to get calls to have the bright street lights removed. “A lot of people have had issues with the lights being so bright. They move to the water, they want to see the stars.”

Miller also noted that removing the lights was a safety issue, especially in places like Dolphin Point where some residents would leave their homes for months at a time.

Since signing the contract in 2015, Miller says, “there are less bright options today than there were the day we signed the contract. If we get those switched out, we start a brand new contract” on the individual light.

As there is no policy currently on the books addressing the removal of street lights, who pays for a contract buyout, and input from police addressing the safety issues, Miller asked the board for approval to look into potential procedures for dealing with removing street lights. With the requests to have lights that are not as bright, or are directed downwards, Miller said “all of this pressure is making Duke make more things available that are for a Dark Sky element.”

Police Report
Officer Nic Blayney gave the report for April. He said there wasn’t much to report at this time. Officer Wichrowski had broken his foot while off-duty and is recuperating. Both officers underwent training this month, to include training in use of force and de-escalation.

Manager’s Report:
• There are 10-12 acres of land on Silverbrook that may be annexed into the town in order to take advantage of the town’s water.
• The permit for the jetty for the Whittaker Point Restoration has been denied. Wing structures flanking the barriers (to further reduce land loss and wave energy) were approved. NCDEQ were looking for a model showing the jetty did break the wave energy that surged around the point.
Letters are going out to homeowners about mowing and that the culverts under the driveway are the owners’ responsibility. Drainage is the biggest issue for the town and the letters advise not to throw green waste in the ditch, but rather in the green waste dumpster at the water tower.
• The water burn out will be complete May 12. For one month a year, the water treatment plant switches chemicals to ‘burn out’ any accumulations in the water pipes. This process will be complete on May 12 and the chemicals will be switched back for the rest of the year.

Commissioner Overcash commended the head of Parks and Recreation, Bonnie Crosser, for her work on town projects. “It’s had more movement now than in years, and there’s progress, and I thank you.”

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Tuesday, June 1 at 7p.

Related Links
• May Agenda
April Meeting Minutes
Street End Street Sign Information
American Rescue Plan
National Public Works Week
Police Report
Manager’s Report
Auxiliary Board Reports
NC Senate Bill Addressing Spending of the American Rescue Plan Funds

Posted Tuesday May 11, 2021 by Allison DeWeese

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