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April 21, 2021

I-85 welcome sign idea draws ire of planning board

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A proposal to place massive welcome signs on Interstate 85 isn’t sitting well with some members of the county’s Planning Board.

After the issue was mentioned by board member Joe Coladarci, the Rowan County Planning Board late Monday night tossed around concerns about the welcome sign proposal. Some board members questioned whether the board had any authority to weigh in on the idea — proposed by County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds. At a minimum, the Planning Board agreed to discuss the issue in-depth during their next meeting in late October.

When Edds presented the welcome signs proposal in August, he noted that businesses and individuals have committed to pay $171,000 of the costs associated with the sign.

“Just because the county isn’t paying for it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t look nice,” Coladarci said during Monday’s meeting.

Each sign, however, has a projected cost of $325,000. So, the county has only secured enough private donations to cover about a quarter of the $650,000 total cost.

A rendering of the welcome signs shows two large towers that would each be multiple stories tall and comprised of brick. U.S., state and local flags would also be part of the signs. The exact words that would be included on the sign haven’t been determined, according to Edds.

Board member Darlene Blount said she thought Edds’ proposed welcome signs looked a “little flamboyant” and didn’t quite fit the local culture. Coladarci suggested the signs be electronic and include a rolling calendar of events rather than a static message.

During Monday’s discussion, Taylor Ford, a Planning Board member and son of State. Rep. Carl Ford, said he preferred not to talk about the welcome sign idea unless the Planning Board could have an impact on the proposal.

“I wouldn’t mind talking about it at all, if it meant something,” Ford said. “Obviously, I don’t want county funds allocated to something, pardon my language, silly.”

If the Planning Board could have a significant impact, Ford said he “absolutely” wanted to talk about the details of I-85 welcome signs.

When asked about the status of the signs following the Planning Board meeting, Edds said the county’s consultant for the project is drawing up final sign designs. An architect is drawing construction plans now and the northern I-85 sign site is being surveyed, Edds said.

Following the Planning Board meeting, Edds said he’s received “a lot of good ideas and input from the general public.” However, when he first presented renderings, Edds said he didn’t get input from local residents about the sign’s design.

Edds says the inspiration for the sign came from a similar welcome sign on Interstate 77 near Rock Hill.

“I basically brought (local architect Bill Burgin) the picture and told him to double it,” Edds said about the sign’s design in August.

Planning Board Chairman Larry Jones questioned how the general public was supposed to submit its ideas about I-85 welcome signs.

“Has anybody heard of any particular organized forum to discuss the issue, or are people just supposed to show up at a Board of Commissioners meeting?” Jones asked other board members. “If the Board of Commissioners has said they want public input and they’re not really providing an effective way for people to provide that input, then maybe that’s something that we can do.”

Some Planning Board members on Monday questioned whether it would be appropriate to have a public hearing and invite members of the general public to submit their ideas about new welcome signs on I-85. No public hearing was scheduled during Monday’s meeting. Instead, the board simply voted to have a discussion about the signs during its next meeting.

Even if it’s only a discussion among planning board members, Coladarci said the planning board would be performing its most critical role in analyzing the sign proposal.

“My understanding is that we are an advisory board, and I’m asking if we’d be interested in advising,” Coladarci said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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