Public invited to comment on revised sign ordinance

The public will have a second chance to give comment on recommended changes to the Sussex County sign regulations. At its Aug. 9 council meeting, the county council voted 5-0 to reintroduce a proposed ordinance to amend its code related to signs.

The council had originally introduced a proposed ordinance in April. However, following comments from the public and the working group — which had spent months reviewing the current regulations and creating a list of recommendations for the council — as well as the Planning & Zoning Commission, concerns had been voiced that the introduced ordinance was not a proper reflection of their recommendations.

That sentiment was strong enough, in fact, that Clear Channel Outdoor, Geyer Signs, Hocker Signs, Jack Lingo Realtors, J.D. Sign Company, Ocean Atlantic, Phillips Signs Inc., Premier Outdoor Media LLC, Rogers Sign Co. Inc. and Timmons Outdoor Advertising had hired Georgetown attorney David Hutt of Morris, James, Wilson, Halbrook & Bayard LLP, who also served on the working group, to create an alternate ordinance.

For the past few months, the council has reviewed the introduced ordinance, the alternate ordinance created by Hutt and the recommendations made by the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Although the County was not legally required to reintroduce the revised ordinance, Council President Michael Vincent said he believed it would be the best move for the County and its citizens. County Attorney J. Everett Moore had agreed with Vincent at the council’s Aug. 2 meeting.

“[It] is so totally different than what we started with. It’s very convoluted and difficult to follow. I like Mr. Vincent’s suggestion,” said Moore. “We take all the input from the discussions that council has had, put together a concise ordinance, then we reintroduce it and have public hearings. That would give the public two chances to comment — once at the Planning & Zoning stage and one at the County Council stage. Then, hopefully, if there are any tweaks that need to be made to that, they are fairly minor tweaks.”

After introducing the ordinance on Aug. 9, Councilman George Cole asked that there be some sort of visual packet created to give examples of various signs.

“For the average person that would pick this up, there’s a lot here. Is it possible to have somebody give examples of… pictures or drawings that could be attached to this so somebody could easily look at it and say, ‘Here’s what a billboard should look like if it meets this ordinance.’”

Cole said that didn’t have to be a part of the ordinance but that he would want it to be something the County could provide to show examples.

“I think it would be very helpful,” he said.

Staff said they could have a packet in the Planning office for people to view, with examples of signs.

The council voted unanimously at its Aug. 9 meeting to reintroduce the ordinance.

“This will start the process of future public hearings in the Planning & Zoning Commission and the County Council as well,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson.

Lawson said the County plans to hold the public hearings on the new proposed ordinance before the Planning & Zoning Commission on Sept. 8 and before the County Council on Sept. 20.

At the Aug. 9 meeting, the council also voted to extend the moratorium it had placed on off-premises sign applications.

Originally passed on Sept. 15, 2015, the moratorium ordinance states that the Sussex County Council “views the placement of off-premise signs as an important public-safety issue” and believes that “the recent proliferation of off-premise signs has a detrimental effect on the safety and welfare of the citizens of Sussex County.”

The moratorium was designed to put a hold on additional applications for signs until the new ordinance could be adopted.

The council voted unanimously on Aug. 9 to extend the moratorium to Oct. 11, to give the council three Tuesday meetings to do any work on the proposed ordinance.