Orange County is preparing to enforce a new regulation limiting the size of flags on private property. The rule was put in place a year ago in response to complaints about a large Confederate flag flying near U.S. 70 northwest of Hillsborough.
The group Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County (ACTBAC) helped install the 20-by-20-foot flag last year.
Board of County Commissioners Chair Penny Rich said the board heard from residents who objected to the flag, which was erected on private property in the spring of 2018.
"We had a lot of people come to our meeting who were embarrased by the flag, and appalled by the flag, and really found it offensive," said Rich.
Orange County Commissioners took issue with the size of the flag itself.
"It's a distraction, it's a safety issue, and it's something we felt we should absolutely create an ordinance about," said Rich.
Last May, the board approved an ordinance limiting the size of flags to 4-by-6-square feet, flying a maximum of 24 feet high in residential areas. Residents were given a year to come into compliance. A zoning enforcement officer will now begin investigating flags thought to violate the ordinance.
Rich said the rule is narrowly tailored to limit the size of the flag, not what’s on it.
“It does become a freedom of speech issue," said Rich. “We are not regulating the content; we are just regulating the size.”
Though the May 15 deadline to bring all flags into compliance has passed, enforcement will likely be a slow process. Community Relations Director Todd McGee said county officials must investigate each of the roughly 20 flags thought to violate the ordinance. He estimates the inspection process might last several months.
“To be patient, I think, is the big thing,” said McGee. “It’s going to take a while to go back and inventory them all, then [we've] got to communicate with the homeowners to let them know they are not in compliance.”
Homeowners found to be in violation can go through an appeal process. Those who lose the appeal and refuse to comply could be charged up to $500 dollars a day. The rule only applies to the unincorporated parts of Orange County, and does not include the towns of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough.