Graham officials are reconsidering the city’s ban on so-called “feather flags,” tall lean banners that typically promote a business.
The planning board passed along its recommendation, which originated with two city council members (Bobby Chin and Ricky Hall) earlier this spring.
In previous comments at a city council meeting, Chin has explained that businessman Richard Shevlin had requested that the city revise its policy to allow flags.
Chin then asked Graham’s planning director Justin Snyder to put the item on the planning board’s agenda for consideration. When it appeared, the description was that the request came from “the city council,” rather than simply from two individual members.
Shevlin had told Chin and Hall – and during an earlier debate on the issue several years ago – that such flags were instrumental in people knowing about his business near the railroad tracks in Graham.
In 2019, Shevlin had made a similar appeal, which was supported by then-businesswoman, now mayor, Jennifer Talley. Talley had said that year that various companies send the feather flags as part of their promotional material for two of her downtown businesses, Colonial Hardware and Farms Services. She insisted that she would still have to pay for them whether she was allowed to put them out or not.
Then and more recently Talley has urged that the flags be allowed to be placed outside a business during their business hours and brought in every night.
That was also the approach of the planning board’s recommendation earlier this month. Graham’s city council will consider the issue at its June 14 meeting.
But in 2019, the city council turned down a proposal from the city’s planning board to allow feather flags, voting 4-1 against opening that door. Only then-mayor Jerry Peterman favored the planning board’s recommendation and opposed the continued prohibition.
Hall told the planning board earlier this month that as co-author of the proposed new ordinance, he felt it would “help businesses hurt by the Covid virus.”
Planning director Justin Snyder said that the proposed ordinance does include a prohibition on electric-powered feather flags, which thereby eliminates the display of what he termed “flailing arm tube man,” another effort to draw drivers’ attention to a local business beside a roadway.
But planning board member Eric Crissman was skeptical about the effectiveness of such flags at helping local businesses and worried aloud about the “tackiness” that a proliferation of such flags could cause throughout the business district.
Noting that there could be as many 90 feather flags on lots from Bethany Church (at the end of South Main Street) all the way to the Historic Court House in downtown Graham, Crissman described that possibility as presenting a “tackiness factor that would rival South of the Border.”
Crissman also used the terms “vertical litter” and “trash on a stick” to describe what he felt the impact of the feather flags would be in Graham.
At one point, Crissman tried to propose reducing the overall size of feather flags that would be allowed, but that proposal drew no support.
Board chairman Dean Ward wondered aloud, “Where does it become a point where we’re overregulating?”
Crissman persisted in his criticism, but his efforts failed, however, inasmuch as the planning board members present – chairman Dean Ward and members John Wooten, Michael Benesch, and Chad Huffine – supported the recommendation to the city council to allow feather flags, which passed 4-1, over Crissman’s dissent. Planning board members Tony Bailey and Jerome Bias were absent.
The current signage restrictions in Burlington’s ordinance include a blanket ban on “feather flags” as well as bow signs, pennants, streamers. The ordinance also forbids “gas or air-filled balloons and figures,” such as “dancing” air puppets, and other “moving” signs – with the exception of flags, banners, and clocks.
In Mebane, planning director Cy Stober explained that so-called “feather flags” are generally allowed only on a temporary basis (such as for grand openings or special sales), as a “temporary sign,” rather than the ongoing approach Graham is considering. A permit is required for all such temporary events and signs, he explained.
Mebane also prohibits such signs in the right-of-way if they pose a for drivers. “No sign may be located in such a manner as to obscure, or physically interfere with the effectiveness of an official traffic sign, signal or device, obstruct or physically interfere with the driver’s view of approaching, merging or intersecting traffic.”