County to hold public hearings on proposed sign ordinance

The Sussex County Council plans to hold a new set of public hearings on a proposed ordinance to amend its code related to signs.

“There has been a lot of conversation,” said Council President Michael Vincent. “I think it’s easy to get mixed thoughts. Since we’ve had our public hearing, we’ve had a lot of meetings…

“My suggestion to council, when we get done today, we would, I hope, end up with a final document, ask the attorney to draw it up as an ordinance, reintroduce the whole ordinance and allow the public to have comment on what we’re proposing. I think, at the end of the day, we are better served if we take our time and do this one time and do it right.”

The County has been discussing its signage ordinance for more than a year, spurred by concerns raised by Councilman George Cole. Following months of working group meetings, council discussions and public hearings, an ordinance to amend the code related to signs was introduced in April. However, those involved with the working group voiced concern that the introduced ordinance was not a proper reflection of their discussions.

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 hired Georgetown attorney David Hutt of Morris, James, Wilson, Halbrook & Bayard LLP, who also served on the working group, to create an alternate ordinance.

Vincent said that, as it has taken weeks for the council to review the draft ordinance and change it from what was originally introduced, he felt it would be best for the County to introduce a new ordinance. Cole said he was not in agreement with Vincent; however, County Attorney J. Everett Moore voiced support for the idea.

“[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.”

Cole asked how fast the process could get going. County Administrator Todd Lawson said staff were currently looking at dates and said that, if the attorneys are able to draft the ordinance in time, it can be introduced at the Aug. 9 council meeting.

The council agreed to reintroduce a draft ordinance related to changing its signage code and to hold additional public hearings on the new draft. That would move the process forward from the current moratorium on signage applications to the County.

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.”

Slated to expire Aug. 15, the moratorium will have to be extended by the council to allow time for the public hearing process for the new draft ordinance.