Sign Language: Parade Truck Perturbs Planning Commission

Majority of Town Planning Commissioners expressed outrage over sign-fested truck. (Wave photo)

Majority of Town Planning Commissioners are upset over sign-fested truck. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

July 15, 2013

Cape Charles Planning Commission has been reviewing the Town’s sign ordinance for more than two years, but the signs on a truck in the July 4th parade brought the issue to a head.

The majority of commissioners expressed displeasure July 9 over signs displayed on a parade truck for the group known as Old School Cape Charles.

Festooned with American flags and plastered with signs, the truck was a moving billboard for the activist group that is fighting the Town’s decision to give away the Old School, basketball court, and parkland to a real estate developer.

“Repeal the Crooked $10 Deal,” read one sign, referring to the price the developer paid for the school and park property.

“Don’t Raise My Water Bill to Pay for More Condos,” read another.

And at the back of the truck: “Stand Up for Your Rights – Don’t Give Up the Fight.”

No planning commissioner found any illegality with displaying signs in the actual July 4th parade. The problem seemed to be that the parade truck was parked on the street both before and after the parade.

Chairman Dennis McCoy said, “What really stuck out like a sore thumb to me was the truck when I came into town this weekend . . . It was not [advertising] any business, and it stayed parked for two days.”

“I complained as a citizen. I thought it was offensive,” said Commissioner Joan Natali, who also is a member of Town Council. She advocated changing the ordinance to allow Town officials to immediately confiscate signs deemed offensive.


“I’m talking specifically about the offensive truck signs that burnt me up,” she said.

“We weren’t prepared for the signs,” said Commissioner Sandra Salopek.

Commissioner Dan Burke noted, however, that at a training course new planning commissioners attended last month, they were told that political signs on private property cannot be interfered with. “You can’t limit signs on private property. You’ll lose every time,” Burke emphasized.

Commissioner Andy Buchholz said that while he supported a property owner’s right to display a sign, he did not see that right extending to a public street. The truck signs “wouldn’t have lasted in front of my house. I would have ripped all the signs off,” he said.

Buchholz’ company, Eastern Shore Signs, makes most of the signs in town – including the signs on the Old School parade truck.

The Planning Commission began its review of the sign ordinance in April 2011, initially with the aim of making the ordinance more business-friendly.

According to former Town planner Tom Bonadeo, the majority of signs displayed in Cape Charles are illegal under the current ordinance. People don’t realize that most signs require a permit, he noted at a previous meeting.

Billboards are illegal in the Town, except that the Blue Heron billboard on Stone Road is grandfathered, Bonadeo told the Planning Commission in April 2012. But if anything happened to that sign, it would not be allowed to be repaired, he said.

Bonadeo also said at the time that the Marina Village sign on Fig Street could be considered a billboard since it advertises retail establishments and is located off the premises of the establishments.

Two years ago in June, Natali raised the issue of the Watson’s Hardware trailer parked on Mason Avenue and asked whether it was considered a sign. According to Town minutes, “Bonadeo stated that it could be considered a sign, but the Town allowed trailers to be on the street and recommended addressing it as a vehicle regarding parking versus as a sign.”

Town Planner Rob Testerman said that he would look into other towns’ sign ordinances and make some suggestions on how to proceed.



14 Responses to “Sign Language: Parade Truck Perturbs Planning Commission”

  1. Deborah Bender on July 15th, 2013 4:42 am

    Well BOO HOO to the Planning Commission! The fact of the matter is simple, really: The Planning Commission just can’t stand to have Old School Cape Charles repeatedly throwing it up in their faces that the dirty deal over the old historic high school was WRONG! The town might as well hang onto their hats because the deal is far from over. The town made the mistake of not listening to their own lawyer during contract negotiations. No buy back option? No performance bond? Now if the developers can’t get their tax credits, how in the world do we get the school back? What our Town Council, mayor and both town managers have done in the past 18 months is reprehensible.

    Our peaceful little town is being run into the ground. I’d sure like to know: When are the citizens of this town going to get up out of their chairs and take this town back?

  2. Judy McKnight on July 15th, 2013 8:30 am

    “She advocated changing the ordinance to allow Town officials to immediately confiscate signs deemed offensive.”

    What happened to “discussion” and “compromise,” and “free speech.” Seems to me that town officials have forgotten about these important tools of governance. Whether elected or appointed officials, supposedly they work for the citizens of the town. (That is despite a not-so-distant court decision that implied that citizens on the Eastern Shore have “no standing.”)

    Our elected officials work hard for our town, and I appreciate that. But something seems to be wrong here, and it’s not just small-town politics. Perhaps the Town Council could be more candid, open, inclusive, and less defensive, with all its citizens. And perhaps its members should never forget that the authority it has been granted is precious. And perhaps, no decisions regarding the use of town resources or funds should be made in private sessions. And perhaps openness, discussion, and compromise should be the council’s most cherished governance tools.

  3. Bruce Wayne Jones on July 15th, 2013 9:14 am

    Wow! Freedom of speech sounds like it is going to be limited by the Planning Commission. Just because they don’t like what the signs say, does not give them the right to squash free speech, and that is what was displayed on the truck. You may not like it, and be offended by it, as I am with many things going on today, but I choose to ignore what I don’t like or respond, into the discussion, without battering. The Planning Commission needs to take a class in how to react and respond, not this knee-jerk reaction that they don’t like the signs and will pass laws abolishing speech they don’t like.

  4. Wayne Creed on July 15th, 2013 9:39 am

    Now, we just feel terrible that the big ol’ red 1991 F-250 (Big Red) caused our noble Planning Commission such consternation. We do so appreciate the valuable service they provide to our town; how else would we be able to stay abreast of what the people who aren’t thinking are thinking. However, if I had known Commissioner Buchholz would have “ripped” the signs off the truck, I would have parked it right in front of Eastern Shore Signs, where we had them made in the first place (plus, it would have saved me the 20 bucks I paid a couple of neighborhood kids to take them down for me).

    One has to wonder whether it was the signs or the basketball hoop [on the back of the truck] that generated the visceral hatred of the Planning Commission. As a note to commissioners McCoy and Natali, and the Town, while they found Big Red offensive, the kids of Cape Charles had a different reaction, as is documented in this video:

  5. Mike Kuzma, Jr on July 15th, 2013 9:51 am

    Jah, zis whole “free speech” thing has gotten WAY outta hand — thankfully, we have the FIRM hand of GOVERNMENT to tell us what to think and say! Or else!

  6. Stephen Fox on July 15th, 2013 10:17 am

    It is baffling to hear the continuing dialogue over “old school” issues, though I believe everybody has a right to vent and re-vent. I hesitate to mix issues as the situations are not exactly parallel. But, where were the voices of opposition when Riverside [Hospital] decided to rip out a vital 80-year-old County feature and move it to Onley, a location which places the hospital outside the reasonable reach of lower Northampton residents? Certainly the hospital closure and re-location will affect all County residents more than the “old school” deal. The apathy was deafening — hardly a peep.

  7. Scott Wade on July 15th, 2013 11:33 am

    Really? Can’t be airing the dirty laundry in front of the tourists, can we? Isn’t the 4th of July supposed to be about celebrating the original civic activism that started this country? We celebrate free speech by stomping out dissent? Regardless of your position, destruction of private property is low rent vigilantism. How was it any different than the political campaign tents? Much more offensive was the incessant fundamentalist preaching emanating from the gazebo that afternoon and all the religious signs everywhere. What happened to the separation of church and state?

  8. Wayne Creed on July 15th, 2013 11:47 am

    Mr. Fox is correct to be concerned about mixing his metaphors regarding the old school and the old hospital; however, to say there was deafening apathy and no opposition is selective memory (I personally wrote three letters to the ES News over the issue). At the time, Supervisor Murray was hardly apathetic, and with the grass roots level support of many folks here on the lower Shore, sought several times for Riverside to justify the move to us (

    In the end, the issue was never black and white, and was complicated by revenue streams, financial viability, and even regional wastewater (or lack thereof).

    Mr. Fox is, however, absolutely correct to point out that losing the hospital was a good lesson for us all, as is Old School’s refusal to roll over like craven dogs when confronted by fact that those we have entrusted with power have, in time, perverted it into tyranny.

  9. Deborah Bender on July 15th, 2013 1:52 pm

    Mr. Fox — is it really OK with you that the town “sold” the school for $10? Threw in a street, gave away the basketball court, AND showed outright racism all the way around by originally denying availability to low-income people? Throw into the mix discrimination by not even entertaining Old School Cape Charles’ $10,000 offer. No vote, no meeting, no discussion.

    What this town needs is honest, open government. Period.

  10. Geneva Smith on July 15th, 2013 6:02 pm

    Upset about a truck with some signs? I’d be more upset about a commission taking two years to review one ordinance! And I don’t understand the part about the signs being offensive either. What is offensive about the truth?

  11. Mike Kuzma, Jr on July 16th, 2013 10:38 am

    Mr. Fox, all of Northampton County made their feelings known regarding the Hospital. Obamacare guaranteed that hospitals on the edge of financial ruin would be forced WAY over the edge and the Country voted to re-elect the man who is heck bent on destroying healthcare. Off point, but relevant.

  12. Stephen Fox on July 16th, 2013 1:25 pm

    I differ in opinion over the hospital issue. I had the occasion to see many of the written comments from the official meetings held. The great majority of the citizens were silent, though privately unaccepting. That, in my opinion, does not constitute “all in opposition.” My point was — if you want to get “worked up” about something, choose something that will really make a great difference in the lives of people in the long run. “Old School” has taken on a life of its own by the discord it has created in the community. If the citizens disagree with the elected officials’ decisions, vote them out of office.

  13. Belle Haegele on July 16th, 2013 9:01 pm

    Did these elected officials not take an oath of office to defend and uphold the constitution? Do they not know that our constitution protects the rights of citizens to speak out in the public square? One member of council would like to have an ordinance permitting elected officials to confiscate signs they find offensive. Will someone please convey to this person that Americans for more than 200 years have fought and died to make this country free — a country where elected officials do not have powers such as she advocates.

  14. Keith Underhill on July 27th, 2013 7:04 pm

    I love it when a plan comes together. Keep throwing stones at Goliath. It’s shaking them up. They are even feeling guilty. They may be human after all.