County P&Z considers off-premises signs

The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission deferred action at their Jan. 12 meeting on an ordinance to amend Chapter 115 of the county code relating to “off-premises” electronic messaging signs, which are typically in the form of billboards.

The commission actually had two ordinances to consider on the subject: one that would set up a process for a public hearing for special-use exceptions for the signs through the Board of Adjustments, and one prohibiting the signs altogether.

Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson, who works with the county Planning & Zoning Commission, explained that the first ordinance amendment “doesn’t permit them — it just sets up the process for a public hearing.”

The P&Z heard from several community members in opposition of allowing a process for approval of the signs, and most also specifically supported prohibiting them.

Linda Blumner of Lewes said that there is a sign in front of Community Bank in Lewes (which the commissioners said they considered to be on-premises) that was “completely blinding.”

“It’s competing with the attentiveness to driving,” she said. Blumner said both proposed ordinances were “murky and twisted” and that “it seems to me that it is basically unsafe and competing with vision.”

Sandy Spence, also of Lewes, reported that, on her way to Georgetown that night, she had seen two on-premises signs that she had a hard time reading. She said that, with the senior population still rising in the area, off-premises signs such as LED billboards would just be a distraction.

“Knowing how this county tends to operate, if there is a decision to allow them, I think they should only be allowed in the districts of the commissioners who voted in favor,” she added, to laughter.

Robertson said that Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) has its own regulations in Title 17 “so they are also going to regulate them.”

Attorney David Hutt of Wilson, Halbrook and Bayard in Georgetown spoke on behalf of clients who are in favor of permitting the electronic messaging signs via a special-use exception. He also said he doesn’t believe that DelDOT regulates on-premises signs, the type most of those in opposition referenced in their comments.

“What I believe is being referred to is not LED but LCD. But with respect to LED signs, dimming and issues are addressed on off-premises signs by DelDOT. The good news is, you don’t get the same public hearing rights for on-premises signs that you do for off-. So allowing them through a special-use exception actually affords people the opportunity to come in and voice their opinion.”

To that, P&Z Chairman Robert Wheatley said, “Maybe on-premises signs need to be regulated in a similar fashion. … I don’t think there is anyone that hasn’t seen an obnoxious sign, and some that people would say are downright offensive. … These things happen because the ordinance permits them, and some of our questions are how can we have better ordinances? With new technology comes new challenges, and there needs to be a way to regulate them. I am not sure saying we are not going to have them at all is appropriate.”

The commission this week decided that they would like the full body to have a chance to review the testimony from the hearing on the proposed ordinances and said they didn’t need to be in a hurry to make a decision. They will place it on another agenda and, by then, commissioners Martin Ross and I.G. Burton will have had a chance to review it, if they wish.

In other news from the P&Z:

• The commission deferred a decision on an application by Collins 54 LLC for conditional use of land at the northeast corner of the intersection of Road 389 and Route 54 in an AR-1 district for a storage garage for trucks and equipment and a parking area. The application was to allow Brasure’s Pest Control to use land contiguous with their present business location for a garage of nearly 5,000 square feet in size and a parking area.

• The commission approved a final subdivision for Bay Twenty, dividing 34.18 acres into 76 lots for Fox Haven (formerly the Woods at Johnson Corner), located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 20 and Road 390.