County Council extends sign application moratorium into June

The Sussex County Council has extended its six-month moratorium on off-premise sign applications. The council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve a continued moratorium on off-premise signs, with Councilman Sam Wilson opposed.

The ordinance, which was introduced by Councilman George Cole on July 28 and passed on Sept. 15, 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 directs the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Office to decline applications for special-use exceptions for off-premise signs for a period of six months. It also allowed for the moratorium to be “extended, modified or terminated at any time by a majority vote” of the council, which is what took place on March 1.

At that meeting, County Administrator Todd Lawson said the sign ordinance working group had held its final workshop in February and that staff plans to provide the council with specific recommendations at its March 15 meeting.

“However, the moratorium is set to expire on March 15, 2016,” explained Lawson, “and we will not be prepared with the sign ordinance update by then. Therefore, we need to extend the current moratorium so that we can present our recommendations to you, draft an ordinance and have you consider that new ordinance for an overall sign update.”

Lawson said he believed a three-month extension of the moratorium would be a sufficient amount of time.

“Moratoriums, by their very nature, shouldn’t be open-ended,” he said, noting that a three-month extension gives the County until mid-June before the moratorium would expire.

Cole asked if County staff were “laying low,” in terms of signage ordinance enforcement, due to the moratorium.

“We continue to be complaint-driven, so if a specific sign is brought to our attention, we will go out and have staff check the permit that’s on file, as well as the setbacks of the sign,” responded Lawson. “That is one of the key outcomes of the working group, was the level of enforcement and looking for direction from council as it relates to enforcement.”

Wilson said he believe the council was “killing time” with the three-month extension.

“I want to know … why we need three more months. What’s the reason for that? It sounds like we’re killing time here… There’s no reason not to have this done.”

Following the discussion, the council voted 4-1, to approve the extension, with Wilson opposed.