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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Signs, signs, everywhere signs. But in downtown Wilmington, some business could be in violation of a city ordinance, and that could mean big bucks in an already tight economy.

In 2008 Wilmington City Council adopted changes to the city’s sign ordinance for businesses downtown, but owners say they were not told about the ordinance until recently.

“The business owners did not even know the sign ordinance had been changed and passed,” said Tom Harris, owner of Front Street Brewery. “We didn’t find out about it until 2011 when we started receiving violation notices.”

Tuesday the city admitted its mistake. In a statement a spokeswoman said, “The lack of notification on this change in the sign ordinance was a significant oversight on the part of the city. The city has already begun to develop a process to make sure we do a better job with these types of notifications in the future.”

Under the ordinance, the city requires that window advertisements only take up 10 percent of the window. Hard Wire Tattoo is just one of many businesses that have been cited for this violation. Justin LaNasa owns the shop. He’s also a candidate for Wilmington Mayor.

“Them telling you what you can do inside of your windows is, to me, is against the moral fabric of being able to do what you want to do in your business,” LaNasa. “To me, it’s unreal.”

Among the violations business owners face is the size of their freestanding and marquis signs.

Harris says the rule is not fair to owners who already paid big bucks for their signs.

“They’ve taken signs that used to be legal and are now making them illegal, and some of those signs are very expensive and tens of thousands (of dollars). In my mind that is taking away private property,” Harris said. “That’s very, very disturbing. I think grounds for a lawsuit.”

For now the city plans to work with businesses on a case-by-case basis to deal with the sign ordinance violations.

Harris says he plans to distribute surveys about the ordinance to business owners tomorrow and will share the results with City Council.

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