County looks to place hold on new signage

Coastal Point • Maria Counts: Sussex County Council voted this week to draft an ordinance for a moratorium on off-premise billboards and electric signs.Coastal Point • Maria Counts: Sussex County Council voted this week to draft an ordinance for a moratorium on off-premise billboards and electric signs.The Sussex County Council is considering placing a moratorium on off-premise billboards and electronic signs, following a discussion at this week’s council meeting.

Councilman George Cole requested the council discuss the County’s sign regulations, stating he had spoken to Dale A. Callaway, chairman of the County’s Board of Adjustment, regarding signage.

“He’s relayed to me that they have problems with these electronic signs… Basically, our ordinance needs to rewritten.”

Cole said there are electronic signs on two-lane roads, such as Route 26, “that are very distracting.”

“It’s getting out of hand,” he said. “The board doesn’t know what to do. They need direction from us.”

The County cannot wait until the Comprehensive Plan is updated, he opined.

“I’d like to see this council maybe stop accepting applications for X amount of time, so we can get this document on the table and help the Board of Adjustment address these issues. They don’t like it, but they’ve got to approve it,” he said of the signs in question.

County Solicitor J. Everett Moore said there is a concern with the BOA, as well as its attorney, James Sharp, based “just on the sheer volume and magnitude of sign applications.”

“In fact, they had addressed a letter to the council, asking for some input on sign issues, in regard to what could be done immediately.”

Cole said a moratorium would allow the County the time to put together an ordinance to address the signage issue.

“It’s time we address it, because the longer we sit back, it just gets worse and worse.”

Moore noted that the BOA had requested a workshop with the council to discuss what kind of changes they believe need to be made.

County Administrator Todd Lawson said the council had two options — wait for the County to hire consultants, which it is in the process of searching for, or to not wait and look at an ordinance that would slow or stop any kind of permitting moving forward in zoning.

“The problem with that is it’ll take weeks to get through,” he explained. “About the time we’re considering an ordinance to stop or slow down consideration of sign permits, we could perhaps be starting the workshop discussions that would fold into a sign ordinance rewrite by our consultants.”

“It’s another year before we get anything done,” said Cole of the option to wait for consultants to be hired. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve waited too long. In my frame of mind, it’s time to bring it to a halt. There’s enough billboards that are out there… It’s not like there’s a shortage out there. There is a need to address this.”

Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson said that, if the council wishes to proceed with seeking a moratorium, an ordinance would have to be drafted. It would then be introduced, there would be public hearings before Planning & Zoning, and it would come back to council.

“Then we would start the exercise all over again with the sign ordinance…” he said. “Just so we’re clear, with the moratorium, we go through the same process with the ordinance change.”

Councilman Rob Arlett said he has noticed the signage issue, giving the example of a recently ad-wrapped commercial building on Vines Creek Road that was once a bait-and-tackle shop.

“Apparently, the seller could not get it sold, so what they chose to do, I’m guessing, is they made the entire building a billboard — I’m talking about the entire building has been wrapped as a billboard.”

Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she believes it is also a matter of public safety, with the potential for drivers to be distracted by roadside signage.

Councilman Sam Wilson said that, while others may have sign issues in their districts, he does not.

“If you want to make a moratorium, I’ll vote for it. George Cole’s district can have one, and Joan, if you want one, I’ll vote for yours, too. But I will not vote for one on the west side. I will not vote for it. I don’t think it’s necessary.”

“This is a county problem, Sam,” responded Cole. “I’m getting sick and tired of everybody saying, ‘in my district…’ We sit here and we look out for the county. Sussex County comes first, Sam. Not your little district, not my little district. We have a county problem.”

The council voted 4-1 to draft an ordinance for a moratorium on off-premise billboards and electronic signs, with Wilson opposed. Moore said the draft would be ready for the council’s Tuesday, July 28, meeting.