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Can I remove political signs on street corners and medians?

Patrick Gannon
StarNews

StarNews file photo.

Q. Political Sign Blight: The onslaught of political signs on every corner and median strip is totally out of control and is only going to get worse. I’ve tried to understand the municipal code noted in previous responses but can’t determine if I’m able to remove any sign NOT on personal property. In other words, can I legally remove these signs on street corners and medians and road dividers?

A. There is not an easy “yes” or “no” answer to this question. Whether a sign is placed legally depends on what government entity maintains the road where the sign is erected and exactly where and when the sign is put up.

But even if you wade through all of the different laws regarding political signs and determine that a sign is illegally placed, government officials recommend contacting them to remove them, rather than doing it yourself. In some circumstances, removing signs can be a criminal offense.

The following is a breakdown of state and city laws regarding political signs:

State:

According to N.C. General Statute 136-32, political signs are permitted in the right of way on state highways under certain conditions from the 30th day before the start of one-stop early voting for any election to the 10th day after the election.

The person putting up the sign must get the permission of any property owner of a residence, business or religious institution fronting the right of way where a sign would be erected, according to the statute.

On state highways, according to the statute:

1) No sign is permitted in the right-of-way of a fully controlled access highway (Interstate 40 and parts of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway are fully controlled highways, for example).

2) No sign is allowed closer than 3 feet from the edge of the pavement of the road.

3) No sign should obscure motorist visibility at an intersection.

4) No sign should be higher than 42 inches above the road.

5) No sign should be larger than 864 square inches.

6) No sign should obscure another sign.

That all said, the statute also states that the Department of Transportation may remove any signs erected without authority or allowed to remain beyond the deadline.

Under state statute, it is a Class 3 misdemeanor for a person to “steal, deface, vandalize, or unlawfully remove a political sign that is lawfully placed.”

Gerard Taylor, New Hanover County maintenance engineer for the DOT, said he wouldn’t recommend removing political signs from any roadway because it is a misdemeanor to remove legal signs.

“Let the department make that call,” he said.

Instead, he suggested calling the DOT maintenance yard in your county. In New Hanover, the number is 341-0500. In Brunswick, call 754-6527. In Pender, dial 259-5413.

City:

According to the state statute, cities may prohibit or regulate placement of political signs on streets inside the city that are maintained by the city. According to Wilmington city code, political signs may be placed only on private property with permission of the owner.

But any state-maintained roads located inside the city – such as Carolina Beach Road, Dawson Street, Market Street, etc. – still fall under the state regulations, where political signs are permitted under certain conditions.

Ron Satterfield, the city planning manager, also suggested making a phone call instead of removing signs yourself.

For questions about political signs placed along city-maintained roads, Satterfield suggested calling the city Code Enforcement office at 341-3266.

RELATED LINKS:

At one time it was illegal to place political signs in median strips in Wilmington. Is that still true?

If those 2×3-foot signs that pop up on every corner are illegal, why are they still on every intersection?

Is there any way to stop the harassing political phone calls?

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