Town continues path toward appearance-related ordinances

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SPRUCE PINE – The path to establishing ordinances related to appearance standards for property within Spruce Pine town limits is more complicated than originally anticipated. 

The Spruce Pine Town Council at its regular meeting Monday, Dec. 9, discussed the path to the establishment of appearance-related ordinances with town attorney Lloyd Hise. 

Earlier this year, the council discussed the possibility of establishing ordinances mainly focused on forcing property owners within town limits to keep trash and junk off of their properties, as well as establishing ways to deal with abandoned properties and properties in disrepair. 

Hise spoke to the council about the issue for more than 30 minutes. Early in his presentation, he established that such ordinances can’t be enforced on residential units housing one or two families. 

For commercial buildings, new appearance-related ordinances would not affect existing businesses that would be grandfathered into the previous set of restrictions. 

Those businesses would only become subject to any new appearance standards if they remodeled and thus had to obtain a building permit. They would also become subject to the standards if their property suffered damage and had to be rebuilt as a result.

Before any ordinances are established, however, Hise said he strongly recommends the establishment of a local community appearance commission. 

Each municipality in North Carolina is allowed to establish an appearance commission, Hise said. The commission must consist of at least seven members but no more than 15 members who are appointed by but not members of the local governing body. 

Hise added the members of the commission should have special training in design and architecture or a related field and must live within town limits. 

“You’ll have to search for some expertise,” he said. “These types of people know the effects of what you’re going to do to buildings.”

The commission would study the appearance of buildings within town limits and would report back to the council with recommendations for ways to improve the downtown business district with a primary focus on buildings being renovated or constructed. 

After the review of the commission’s recommendations, ordinances could be established that would be enforced by the local zoning board and building inspector. 

Before a commission could be established, the town would have to have a public hearing. 

“If you are going this direction, I’d recommend you begin immediately to search the community for those who would be beneficial to serve on this commission,” Hise said. 

Hise added the establishment of an appearance commission is the beginning of the process and with existing properties being grandfathered into the old standards, it would take some time to see effects. 

“It’s going to be a gradual thing,” Hise said. “If you get it started, a lot of people may like it.”

Hise said zoning issues have become complicated and added the commission wouldn’t “have teeth” with regards to appearance enforcement but would enable the town to “have teeth” in the matter. 

Mayor Darla Harding said between the time of Hise’s recommendation and the council’s next regular meeting in January, she and the council would begin considering which town residents could potentially serve on the commission. 

Town Manager Richard Canipe said the issue is deeper than he and the council realized.