DAVIDSON — The Davidson Planning Board has asked town commissioners to consider studying the sign ordinance, specifically along the N.C. 73 corridor. 

The town commissioners officially approved a variance Feb. 19 to allow Carolina's HealthCare System's behavioral health center to construct a larger-than-allowed sign at the entry on Davidson-Concord Road.

During the January public hearing, residents said the proposed sign didn’t look like a typical hospital entrance and aired concern over how the road would look if the current sign rules were ignored regularly. 

“It think it’s important for everyone traveling on the highway, particularly in need of the service, it makes a lot of sense that it stand out for people to see if and respond to it,” Commissioner Jim Fuller said of why they should be allowed prior to the board's approval.

The planning board had unanimously recommended the approval of the zoning request for the sign enlargement and took it a step further, asking the staff to study sign rules, predominately in growth areas. Commissioners previously questioned whether the ordinance was meant to apply to more historic downtown and residential areas versus the major thoroughfare.

Planning Manager Ben McCrary said since staff is working through the planning ordinance, they could prioritize a sign study for the town, which previously hadn't been included. 

Mayor John Woods said they should make a note to add it to future discussions.

The zoning application brought on other potential policy considerations — debate of when and how commissioners can excuse themselves from voting.

Prior to the vote, Fuller offered full disclosure that the law office he works at has Carolina’s HealthCare System as a client, but neither the firm nor he personally would be affected by the decision.

Commissioner Brian Jenest, however, asked to be recused from the vote, stating he personally designed the sign and would potentially get more work if the board turned it down, making it a conflict of interest because of personal gain.

During a work session last month, Attorney Richard Kline told the board to err on the side of voting as they were elected to do, but explained there are cases when it is acceptable to ask permission not to vote. The statute states if the commissioner would personally have substantial gain or loss as a direct result of the decision, they should not vote, Kline explained.

Following Jenest’s request, other commissioners worried approving the recusal would set a bad precedent.

“I want to make sure we are not setting low threshold for people being recused,” said Commissioner Rodney Graham," because we have matters before us that we have some interest or affiliation, we recuse ourselves, and we often know the most about it and really should be the ones participating in conversation and voting.”

Graham worried that, as a builder, he would have to excuse himself from discussion on affordable housing, which is not the case. Jenest hasn’t excused himself from other sign applications simply because it was in his field because he wasn't affected personally.  And if commissioners do excuse themselves, they don’t necessarily have to stay out of discussion, they simply can’t vote. Commissioner Beth Cashion joked, just because she’s a patient at Carolina’s HealthCare doesn’t mean she has a personal interest and can't pass an opinion.

Graham also reasoned how does someone define the definition of “significant” without going into contracts and specific financial numbers. Kline said it would be up to the commissioners’ discretion. 

The board voted unanimously to allow Jenest out of the vote.