Town gives illegal billboard owners notice: Comply with the law or face action

Published 7:30 am Saturday, May 25, 2019

Aldermen are issuing a deadline for anyone with a billboard in the city that isn’t in full compliance with Brookhaven’s ordinances.

After a lengthy discussion in a closed-door executive session Tuesday night, the Brookhaven board voted 5-0 to send letters to all business owners who are not in compliance with the city’s laws, giving them 45 days to comply before the city takes legal recourse, said Mayor Joe Cox. Ward 3 Alderwoman Mary Wilson had already left the meeting before the vote was taken and Ward 5 Alderman Fletcher Grice recused himself from the vote.

While several business owners could be affected by this decision, the person who has been most discussed by board members in past meetings is Wayne Wallace, who erected the two billboards at the corner of Industrial Park Road and Hwy. 51. Wallace, who owns Brookway Market Basket on Brookway Boulevard, put up two large billboards at a 90-degree angle in March 2018. They list the Book of Exodus’ Ten Commandments on one side and a call to “Wake up America” on the other. The billboards did not comply with the city’s sign ordinance, nor did Wallace get a permit before they were put up.

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Wallace said last year he did not know he was required to obtain a permit before he erected a sign — he thought the permits only applied to buildings. He purchased the half-acre strip of land earlier in 2018 and completed the sign shortly after. Wallace eventually purchased a permit, but it has expired.

The signs are still in the city’s right-of-way.

According to the sign ordinance, billboards can be constructed in a C-3 commercial district only. The maximum area of size of any outdoor advertising sign shall not exceed 300 square feet in sign area. The setback is at least 25 feet from the front property line, 15 feet to the side and 15 feet to the rear. The maximum height shall be 35 feet high and shall be supported by a single steel post.

Any person violating the ordinance can be fined not less than $50 or more than $200 plus court cost for each offense. If the violation continues without correction, each 30-day period can be considered a separate offense.

Wallace met under the sign April 2018 with Cox, Grice and building inspector David Fearn and came to an agreement to remove them and make modifications to bring them into compliance with the city’s sign ordinance. He had already said in March of that year he would remove the existing signs to reinstall them on metal supports 10 feet further back on his property in order to comply with the ordinance.

In May 2018, Ward 6 Alderwoman Shelley Harrigill questioned why the signs were still up and not in compliance. Fearn told the board Wallace had the poles and the engineering drawings to bring the signs into compliance.

Board attorney Joe Fernald met with Wallace several times in August alone and with Cox.

“There’s no real problem,” Fernald said last year. “He’s going to take care of it. It’s just that things don’t always happen at the speed and regularity that it should, and part of it is that they were working on the right-of-way for the water line.”

Fernald said then that it’s not the signs’ messages that are an issue. It’s the safety hazard caused from the placement of the signs in the right-of-way. They’re blocking traffic views, he said.