Proposals would loosen requirements for number of parking spaces, tighten requirements for business signage
Mebane’s planning department is proposing a series of changes to the city’s unified development ordinance which would loosen the city’s parameters for the number of parking spaces required in shopping centers, office buildings, hotels, and apartment complexes, while tightening the rules surrounding signage for businesses.
Mebane planning board members spent about half of their two-hour meeting Monday night hearing planning director Ashley Ownbey outline the proposed changes in the two areas of the city’s overall ordinance.
Ownbey said that, after reviewing parking requirements, she is recommending a reduction in the spaces at apartment complexes, as well as at hotels.
For apartments, Ownbey is recommending that the city have a requirement of 1.5 parking spaces for every two-bedroom apartment, versus the current requirement of 1.75 spaces; the 1.5-space-per two- bedroom requirement is the same as the city’s one-bedroom apartment requirement.
She drew as an example an apartment complex on Eleventh Street with 48 apartments. Under the current ordinance, an apartment complex would be required to have 72 parking spaces, as opposed to the current requirements, which would be for 78 parking spaces.
Planning board member Kurt Pearson questioned the reduction in parking spaces for apartments, asking Ownbey to provide more research justifying the change by the time the planning board resumes consideration of the issue at its April meeting.
“I don’t want to [see us get into situations] with [parking lot] altercations,” Pearson said, pointing to an incidence of violence in Chapel Hill over apartment parking.
Similarly, community amenities at an apartment complex would see a reduction in the required number of parking spaces. A pool, clubhouse, or meeting facility, for instance, would be required to have 10 spaces plus one space for every 20 dwelling units.
An example cited by Ownbey was the Tupelo Junction apartment complex’s amenity center which has 19 spaces now, but would have been required to have only 16 under the new standards.
Meanwhile, another planning board member, Susan Semonite, questioned the proposed reduction in the number of parking spaces at hotels.
Ownbey proposed to increase the percentage, from 120 percent to 150 percent, by which a nonresidential development (i.e., retail, office building, etc.) can exceed the minimum parking standards before requiring a parking study.
So for example, a retail store (such as with 10,000 square feet of space) with 50 required parking spaces would be required to have a parking study if it exceeded 75 spaces, rather than the current threshold of 60 spaces.
The proposed UDO revision would also scale back parking requirements for warehouse-type industrial buildings, the calculations for which would now be based on employees, rather than strictly by the size of the square footage of the building.
Sign ordinance changes
But probably some of the most controversial provisions in the proposed draft of changes are those dealing with business signs.
The planning department is proposing restrictions on a number of fronts. Eliminated altogether would be spinners, types of signs with electronic animation, and so-called “snipe” signs; Ownbey described those as signs in the right-of-way or on utility poles.
Part of the planning department’s challenge was to develop regulations that would withstand the U.S. Supreme Court’s limitation on political signs, stemming from a 2015 court case in Arizona, Reed vs. Gilbert.
In essence, the Supreme Court held that sign ordinances must be “content neutral,” and may not single out any particular kind of message for separate restrictions.
So, for instance, Mebane’s new iteration of its proposed ordinance attempts to do so by referring to “temporary signs,” which are generally restricted to one per lot, except that “prior to elections” there are no limits on the number of signs a homeowner may have.
In other times of the year, however, the one-per-lot restriction would apply, under Mebane’s guidelines, regardless of whether they are “political,” i.e., endorsing a particular candidate or point of view.
Ed Priola, a former Republican candidate for the state legislature, spoke to express concerns about the limits related to political signs.
Tom Boney, Jr., publisher of The Alamance News also questioned whether the city’s attorney, Lawson Brown, had pronounced the proposed limits to be legally defensible inasmuch as many localities have generally conceded they have no longer have authority to impose limits on signs with a candidate or other political message.
Proposed to be eliminated altogether are pole signs in certain areas zoned for: office and institutional use, central business district, and neighborhood business districts.
The height of certain signs would be reduced, as would be the square footage allowed for the face of such signs.
The planning director is also proposing to establish new sign categories with restrictions on each: neon signs, wall murals, gasoline canopy signs, and signs or messages on storefront windows.
The planning board will resume discussion at its next meeting, on April 10.