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School sign flash point of meeting

VINTON – A proposed electronic sign for William Byrd moved ahead Tuesday when, during a three hour long and emotionally charged Council meeting, Town Council voted its unanimous approval.

Council’s vote directed Town Manager Chirs Lawrence to continue pursuing an agreement with Roanoke County Schools to erect the sign at the intersection of Route 24, Washington Ave., and the Bypass Road.

Mike Stovall, the Vinton Representative for the Roanoke County School Board, points to the proposed location for the electronic William Byrd sign during Tuesday night's Council meeting.  - Photo by Carrie E. Cox
Mike Stovall, the Vinton Representative for the Roanoke County School Board, points to the proposed location for the electronic William Byrd sign during Tuesday night's Council meeting. - Photo by Carrie E. Cox

For nearly a year, local residents near the proposed site have found themselves at odds with the proposition led by William Byrd High School Principal Dr. David Turner and Mike Stovall, the Vinton Representative for the Roanoke County School Board. 

The school board and members of the local business community see the proposed $40,000 electronic board, designed in a “V” shape at the intersection, as a “way to communicate what’s going on” said Hal Mabe, past president of the Vinton Chamber Commerce. 

Mabe was one of the three who spoke in favor of the sign at that particular intersection.  He sees it as a “critical gift” for the town, a town he says that is in need of more progressive thinking and modernization.  The other two gentlemen who spoke on behalf of the sign at the proposed location also expressed interest from a business perspective.  Patrick Patterson spoke, stating that he represented the business community, and noted that the “William Byrd community is Vinton.”   Anthony Conner, another local businessman, spoke on behalf of the sign. 

Representing the other side were a little over 20 residents, 11 of whom spoke on behalf of those who live in the immediate vicinity of the area.  All shared the sentiment that they had no issue with the idea of the sign itself, just the proposed location of the sign.  Though many directly asked Council members to consider the query of “would you want this in your yard?” the majority expressed concern over the safety of the placement at that location.

Currently there are no studies, nor data that shows that electronic signs, with their changing messages, have a direct influence on the number of vehicular accidents.  “There’s no proof that it will” cause more accidents said Mr. Stovall.  Dr. Turner spoke on behalf of Fire Chief David Hoback, who couldn’t be present at the meeting himself, in regards to the Roanoke Civic Center’s electronic sign, saying that data didn’t show an increase in accidents caused by the sign.  Councilmember Hare, when addressing this concern with the audience, cited that studies have addressed all the various things that could cause a driver’s distraction, saying “It even an attractive woman” was listed as a possible distraction.  Residents present though continued to maintain the stance on safety, especially as the question of what exactly the sign will look like seemed less and less clear. 

Vinton residents listen as the pros and cons of a proposed electronic message board are weighed during Town Council's Tuesday meeting.  - Photo by Carrie E. Cox
Vinton residents listen as the pros and cons of a proposed electronic message board are weighed during Town Council's Tuesday meeting. - Photo by Carrie E. Cox

The school’s proposal was for a V-shaped two sided monument style electronic message board that measured six feet in height and eight feet in width, with a masonry base, capable of conveying messages from the school, Town, and Chamber of Commerce in single-tone amber colored lights. 

Questions and concerns swirled as residents and Council members tried to pinpoint just what exactly that would look like.  It was determined that, according to the existing code, the V-shape would have to maintain a 30 degree angle.  Residents questioned how that would be visible to passers-by, and exactly where and how that V-shape would sit on the proposed site.  Stovall contended that though it can be built to meet whatever criteria Town Council sets forth that until the approval was given they couldn’t get the RFPs (Request For Proposals) to detail it anymore than what was currently stated. 

Residents, such as Greg Henderson, maintained that because of the current lack of certainty and clarity on the shape and layout that what residents of Vinton will wind up getting is a 16 foot long wall.  Henderson stated that the “size is misleading” and that “the location is wrong,” purposing instead that they build the sign at the school.  He also noted that, given the recent sinkhole, that the money could be better spent on something such as a new entrance to the school.  Resident Charles Hartman, who became quite agitated over the course of the three hour long meeting, also questioned the use of the money for a sign, saying “they can spend $40,000 on a sign but they can’t fix the cameras on school property.”  Council quickly noted that it wasn’t the Town’s money that was being used for the sign, and that the matter of what to do with the $40,000 was out of their jurisdiction.  They noted that residents concerned with how the school board has chosen to spend the money should take those concerns up with the school board.

By the end of the evening, after many questions and concerns were addressed, it came down to votes.  First Vice Mayor Carolyn Fidler moved to reject the motion.  The move was seconded by Councilmember Robert Altice.  That failed to pass with a 2-3 vote, with Council members Nance and Hare as well as Mayor Grose voting no. 

Next Council then moved to pass the motion, with several amendments added to the current list of nine recommendations from Town staff, including that the matter come back before Town council and not just Town staff.  This move was passed, with all Council members voting “yes.”

Addressing the concerns of the residents, Council members stated that though the concerns were valid they felt that there was enough control given to Council in the matter that they could adequately address any issue as it may rise when the motion comes back before them, which it will have to do before anything is actually built.  They noted that the benefit to the whole of Vinton was greater than the concerns of a few.

 Story by Carrie E. Cox

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