Sussex County approves moratorium on off-premise signs


The Sussex County Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve a moratorium on off-premise signs, with Councilman Sam Wilson opposed.

The ordinance, which was introduced by Councilman George Cole on July 28, 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.”

Now approved, 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, which could be “extended, modified or terminated at any time by a majority vote” of the council.

Wilson, who had voiced opposition to the moratorium in prior council discussions, motioned on Tuesday that the moratorium only affect Councilman George Cole and Councilwoman Joan Deaver’s districts.

“In my district, I don’t need a moratorium,” said Wilson.

“I’m not sure that’s appropriate,” said County Solicitor Vince Robertson. “You’re treating different property owners and different residents differently throughout the County jurisdiction… That’s running afoul of the law.”

Cole then motioned to approve the moratorium on the acceptance of special-use applications for off-premise signs for all districts within the county.

“I’m highly supportive of business as a business owner, and it is important for all businesses to be able to advertise and get people to their place of business,” said Councilman Rob Arlett. “At the same time, I do think we have a responsibility to make sure we do the right thing. I see this is not going to affect really anybody… In this one specific case, I will vote ‘yes.’”

Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank said only one application is currently in the works for a special-use exception for an off-premise sign within the county.

The moratorium was designed to allow the County “a reasonable time period for the review and study of off-premise signs, the preparation of proposed legislation to address resultant issues and the consideration of said legislation.”

On Aug. 27, the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission voted 4-0, with Commissioner Michael B. Johnson abstaining from the discussion and vote, to recommend against the moratorium.

“I think a moratorium creates undue pressure. I think it would be more difficult to reach a reasonable ordinance to answer all the concerns,” said Commission Chairman Robert C. Wheatley at the August meeting. “I think we should proceed posthaste and act on the concerns that the Board of Adjustment did very ably outline for council, and let’s get it done.”

At this week’s meeting, County Administrator Todd Lawson said the County would host a signage ordinance workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. at the County’s West Complex.

“The workshop would entail a select group of elected and appointed officials from the County to gather to hear presentation from staff and legal — to get feedback from that select group,” he said. “Previously, when we discussed this issue, you encouraged us to invite members from the Department of Transportation, which we have, and specifically local attorney Mr. David Hutt.”

Lawson said the workshop would have an agenda focusing on priorities within the ordinance and is designed to get feedback from the council.

Along with the workshop, a working group is also being created to tackle the County’s signage ordinance. Although the working group has not been officially created yet, Lawson said the County hopes it will include one member from each of the County’s three boards, members of the County staff and legal team, representatives from DelDOT, Hutt and stakeholders outside the government, such as sign companies and developers.

Also on Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a conditional-use application for the Home of the Brave Foundation Inc. to erect two additional boarding homes, containing four-bedroom buildings capable of housing eight residents each, for female veterans at their current location on Sharps Road outside of Milford.

Attorney Jim Fuqua, representing the foundation, said they would be used as transitional housing facilities, where the veterans would be provided food, transportation, counseling, access to healthcare and employment assistance.

Those who are qualified to stay at the temporary housing site are those who have been honorably discharged from a branch of the service, who are homeless or will be homeless in 14 days or fewer.

Fuqua stated that the length of stay for each veteran is on a case-by-case basis, and the transitional homes are drug- and alcohol-free. Weapons are not permitted on the premise at any time.

“The statistics are difficult to collect,” said Fuqua, “but it is estimated that on any given night in the United States, there are 67,000 homeless veterans, and women veterans make up about 5 percent of that total.

“On any night, there are about 585 homeless veterans in Delaware, and about 29 of them are women vets and their children. That’s right here in Delaware.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Ruth Irwin of the Delaware National Guard spoke in favor of granting the conditional use.

“I became aware of the Home of the Brave when I was in Afghanistan,” she said. “When I returned and retired from the Guard, I decided this was an activity I wanted to support… There are very few female veterans’ facilities anywhere. It’s really important, and we’re being very progressive, moving forward in this area.”

The council voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve the conditional-use application.

“We don’t want anyone to be homeless, let alone a veteran, let alone their children. I commend you for stepping up and providing a service for a real need. And I’m grateful for that,” said Arlett, a veteran himself.

“It’s a great thing you’re doing,” added Council President Michael Vincent, who is also a veteran.

For more information about the Home of the Brave Foundation, visit homeofthebravefdn.org.