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Meadows quit after board banned digital signs, tightened design rules

The Mills River Town Board voted to require developers of commercial buildings to use mostly natural materials on facades. The action came after O'Reilly Auto Parts used brick and stucco on a store in Fletcher but planned a metal building in Mills River. The Mills River Town Board voted to require developers of commercial buildings to use mostly natural materials on facades. The action came after O'Reilly Auto Parts used brick and stucco on a store in Fletcher but planned a metal building in Mills River.

Before he resigned from the Mills River Town Council, Richmond Meadows was on the losing end of several votes that made the town much more restrictive in its regulation of signs and commercial development.

Meadows, elected in November 2017, shocked colleagues on the town council when he abruptly announced at the end of last Thursday’s meeting that he was resigning effectively immediately.
That night, the council voted 4-1 to ban digital signs and 3-2 to require that commercial buildings on major corridors be made of at least 70 percent natural or natural-looking materials. Meadows voted no on both motions.
Meadows said in an interview Thursday that he plans to attend a council meeting in the coming weeks to explain the reasons for his departure. “Absolutely,” he said when asked whether he felt the zoning regulations were too strict. “That’s not the total reason this had been coming about. It was too radical. The sign (ban), that was way too radical. We’re living in a past world or something.”
Since he quit, he has seen criticism of his stand from a faction in Mills River that favors stronger regulation of development.
“I’ve been beat up pretty hard about my decision,” he said. Friends have asked him whether he has a health issue. He said his health is fine, "other than getting my legs fixed."
He had kept his intentions to himself before last week's meeting, not even telling his wife.
“She didn’t even know I was going to do it that night,” he said, adding that he made the decision before voting on the short end on the sign and design regulations. “I made the decision (before the meeting). That made it happen that night.”
At its meeting on Jan. 23, the council voted 4-1 to impose a 60-day moratorium on electronic signs after approving a permit for a 12.65-square-foot changeable copy sign at Mills River Elementary School. At the time, Mills River’s zoning code allowed free-standings signs up 32 square feet, with electronic messaging covering no more than 40 percent of the surface.
After approving the sign on Schoolhouse Road, the council turned to the moratorium to give the Planning Board and council time to review and amend electronic sign rules. A staff report said that applications for lighted, changeable copy signs had been increasing as the town has grown. “While this type of signage may be common in other communities, it is not consistent with the town of Mills River character design,” the report said.
During a public hearing, Jeff Young, of North Mills Road, objected to the moratorium, calling it a drastic measure. Instead, the town should better enforce the ordinance it has.
During council discussion, Meadows said he agreed with Young and voted no.
The council also wanted to force developers to make commercial buildings look more natural in order to preserve the “historic rural character” of the town. The stricter rules particularly targeted metal buildings and were a reaction in part to two O’Reilly Auto Parts stores — one in Fletcher made of brick and stucco and one in Mills River, a metal building. Town Planner Brian Burgess said the auto parts store “is balking at Mills River restriction (requiring) some stone on the face of a metal building.”
Meadows argued against that moratorium, too, saying the Planning Board and town council could revise the architectural standards without taking the more radical step of a moratorium. Mayor Chae Davis expressed a concern about the burden on small businesses, according to minutes of the meeting. After Meadows’ motion not to impose a moratorium died for lack of a second, the council, including Davis, voted 4-1 for the moratorium.
“The digital sign ordinance is basically in response to a number of complaints we’ve had from residents about signs that blink and flip and are bright at night and can blind oncoming drivers,” mayor pro tem Brian Caskey said. “In the end, the recommendation was to ban electronic signs going forward.”
After council member Randy Austin had pushed for stronger architectural guidelines for commercial buildings, the Planning Board recommended a zoning overlay district on commercial corridors such as N.C. 280 and N.C. 191 and other major connectors like Schoolhouse Road and Banner Farm Road.
The starkly different facades of the two O’Reilly Auto Parts store had gotten the council’s attention.
“They saw that our guidelines were much looser and they decided to just put up a plain metal building,” Caskey said. “We wanted to keep Mills River looking rural and natural and metal buildings don’t really fit that very well.”
Meadows announced his decision to quit during the part at the end of the board agenda set aside for council members' comments.
“I was in complete shock when that happened,” Caskey said. “He’s a conservative but he is a good friend and he is an asset to the council.” The two had even had a conversation earlier that day about “how people had been responsive and very positive to the plans we were putting in place,” he said. “I really don’t know how to explain what happened. I have a lot of respect a lot for Richmond and I count him as friend and I hope that continues.”