County sign ordinance introduced

After months of discussions, the Sussex County Council this week introduced an ordinance that would revise the County’s current signage regulations.

For nearly a year, the council has been working to revamp its sign ordinance, after Councilman George Cole raised concerns related to billboards.

A moratorium was placed on the acceptance of all off-premise sign applications by the County’s Planning & Zoning Office in September 2015, to give the council and staff the opportunity to revise the ordinance in its entirety.

At their April 19 meeting, the council was presented with the red-lined eighth version of the ordinance, with Assistant County Attorney Jamie Sharp calling attention to definition changes, as well as changes to billboard and lamination standards.

Sharp told the council that, under the draft ordinance, signs proposed to be prohibited include animated signs, abandoned signs (more than six months), mirror signs, V-shaped signs and signs with more than two faces.

The signage fee structure was also addressed during Sharp’s presentation, with the staff recommending that construction permit and fees be raised from 50 cents per square foot (or a $25 minimum for signs greater than 32 square feet) to 65 cents (with a $32 minimum).

“Did you calculate whether those fees would subsidize any new enforcement we may create with this whole operation?” asked Cole.

“We actually backed in the fees based on the hiring of one staffer. The fees were developed in conjunction with the finance director, so those proposed fees will cover one new employee,” responded County Administrator Todd Lawson.

Cole asked that whether, if it turned out that, with the county’s large size, one employee was not enough, it would be possible to change the fee structure without altering the ordinance.

“The current proposal is that the fees are contained within the sign ordinance and we are only proposing to cover one employee,” said Lawson.

“The short title in the proposed ordinance is rather broad. It deals with changes to the sign ordinance in general. That would allow for — as you receive comments from Planning & Zoning and through the public hearing process — if you looked at this and felt there needed to be amendments there, too, you could make those amendments,” added Sharp.

Off-premise signs were also a big topic of discussion, with the current front-yard setback of 25 feet recommended to be raised to 40 feet. The separation distance from a dwelling, church, school or public lands for an off-premise sign is currently 300 feet; the proposed ordinance would require 500 feet.

The current sign ordinance requires off-premise signs have a separation of at least 300 feet from other off-premise signs. The proposed ordinance would increase the separation distance to 1,000 feet, with an additional separation distance of 50 feet from on-premise signs.

“So you don’t have those right on top of each other, which has been noted,” said Sharp.

Councilman Rob Arlett emphasized that what is in the draft ordinance is not necessarily what will be approved by the council following its review and the public hearing process.

“These are not in concrete, so these can be adjusted as we get more input, more feedback from the public. So I just want to make sure that is fully understood by anyone who may be seeing, or listening or reading this, that these are just proposed. It’s easier to come down than go back up with some of these numbers.”

With the draft now introduced, it will go before the Planning & Zoning Commission for review and a public hearing on May 12. It is tentatively scheduled to be back on the county council’s agenda on May 24 for a public hearing.