Flag sign action grew out of retreat

Published 6:25 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

The Smithfield Town Council discussed beautifying the town during its retreat, to include dealing with the abundance of signs, but at least two members publicly disagree with how the cleanup plan was carried out. 

Several business owners were furious recently when their “feather” signs were removed by a town employee without notice, leading them to think a thief was on the loose. 

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“I would hate to think that any business would feel like it’s not easy to do business in Smithfield,” said Town Council member Valerie Butler, who agreed with enforcing the town’s sign ordinance, but not the method.

“It seems like a lot of businesses were not aware of the ordinance,” said Butler. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Town Council member Beth Haywood agreed the ordinance should be enforced, but not the way it was handled. 

“We don’t have any ill will or ill intent for any of the businesses in the town,” said Haywood. She added that at the recent retreat, Town Council members had asked Town Manager Brian Thrower to more strongly enforce the ordinance related to the signs. 

After two business people complained to the Town Council on April 2, Thrower said the Town Council had made this a priority at its retreat and then read a statement out loud.

 “These bandit signs, feather signs, and all other types of temporary signs in the right of way detract from the aesthetics of our community and are a traffic hazard due to limiting driver visibility,” said Thrower at the Town Council meeting, adding that there is an approval process for private signs within town limits and that they must not be placed within the right of way. 

“Town staff will be continuing to remove the signs located within the right of way and issuing notices to anyone who is in violation of the sign limits.”

During the meeting, the Town Council did not comment on the actions by the town employee or respond to the business people who were present.

In a phone interview on April 4, Butler said the issue came up during the Town Council’s recent retreat in Williamsburg. 

However, when a resident told her of the signs being removed without notice, Butler called Thrower and he referred to the retreat discussion on beautification, she said. 

Haywood said that during a workshop at the retreat, Town Council was split up into two groups to discuss things they would like to keep in town and things they’d like to change. Both groups said they wanted to do away with the feather signs around town. “We were asking the town manager to try to enforce that ordinance more,” said Haywood. 

“I think that Smithfield is such a unique place, and we wanted to keep that small town charm,” said Haywood. 

The method used to beautify the town, such as removing signs without notice, was not discussed at the retreat, said Butler and Haywood. “Probably the way it went through could have been better,” said Haywood. 

Butler is calling for some sort of resolution between the town and the business owners. 

Vaughan TECH owner Clay Vaughan suggested to the Town Council that it set up a committee of council members and business owners to review these sorts of issues and how to deal with them in the future. He also called for a panel to review how these particular violations were handled to prevent it from happening again.

Vaughan TECH employee Jennifer Molesworth said there are several ways that businesses have been blocked from getting their name out to the public and that the sign ordinance should be updated.  {/mprestriction}