The Millville Planning & Zoning Commission met Aug. 8 and heard a presentation on signage in the town’s C1 and C2 commercial districts from Town Manager Debbie Botchie and Code and Building Administrator Eric Evans.
“The land-use codes – the new ones – were not adopted until 2007. Prior to that, the Giant shopping center was put in, the Food Lion shopping center was put in. And all of the signs at that time, under the old code, were also non-conforming,” said Botchie, who noted that each business was allowed one square foot of signage per linear foot of frontage.
“In 2009, our code states that you can actually go to the businesses and say, ‘Your sign is non-conforming. You now have to change to conform to the code.’ – 98 percent of the town was non-conforming.”
Botchie said the Town has now run into issues with new businesses coming into town, wanting to put up signs, which must conform to the new code. She emphasized that no business was being singled out in their presentation; it was simply a means to illustrate the problem with the code.
In the C-2 commercial district, businesses may have a sign that is 5 percent of the buildings frontage, or 100 square feet — whichever is less. Using Food Lion as an example, Botchie said the sign on the building is double the size of what is allowed in the code.
“When you look at the size of the sign in proportion of the building, the sign is in proportion with the building,” said Evans.
“But our code says it isn’t, for a store of that size,” added Botchie.
She noted that all the businesses in the Millville Town Center, including Banks Wines & Spirits and other freestanding buildings, are all a part of one parcel, with their signage counted collectively under the code.
“Our businesses need to advertise. And to take away something like that… It’s a problem,” said Botchie.
“At one point, I think, the sign ordinance might have been prepared for businesses that we had, instead of prepared for what could come,” mused Evans.
In the C-1 district, one 24-square-foot sign is allowed for each parcel. Each business in the C-2 district is allowed one 10-square-foot sign. Sandwich boards are not allowed within the district.
“These businesses are going to be impacted by the widening of Route 26, and they’re going to either have to change them or move them,” noted Botchie of the requirement to have newly erected or relocated signs conform to current code. “At that point we have to say, ‘You can’t rebuild that. It’s too big,’” explained Botchie.
“We want to make things workable for the businesses, but you also want to make things workable for the Town,” added Evans.
They went on to explain that, for residential master-planned communities (MPC), a comprehensive signage site plan must be submitted to the Town. Subdivisions are allowed one non-illuminated real-estate development sign. However, the code does not specify any size restrictions.
The main issues discussed on Aug. 8 were:
• Problems with definitions within the code. For example, linear foot is not defined.
• The C-2 district should be provided more space for signage on building frontage.
• In the C-2 district, businesses are not permitted to have more than one freestanding sign.
• Multiple signage.
• The code for MPCs is overly broad. There is nothing written about the amount of signs allowed per development.
• The code does not give square footage for signage in residential districts.
Botchie and Evans suggested that the commission hold workshops at which they could chip away at the issues.
“I think we should go to the Town Council, say, ‘Here it is. Here are the issues,’ and then offer a go-forward plan,” said P&Z Chairman Bob Linett.
“How about if we contact the business owners?” suggested Evans. “They have a workshop with me and they bring in their ideas, I compile it and present their ideas to you, to give you a feel of what they think is appropriate.”
The commissioners voted to present the signage presentation to the council, illustrating the various issues. Evans is to then develop a list of best practices to share with five members of the business community. Following meetings with the business community, Evans will present Planning & Zoning with a compiled list of recommendations from the businesses for review, at which time the commission will present the town council with a recommendation.
“It just seems like it’s going round and round,” said Kami Banks of Banks Wines & Spirits. “Where Planning & Zoning is saying go to town council and town council is saying, “Planning & Zoning, go ahead and create something.”
She added that she would like a liaison from town council to attend the meetings, so that Botchie and Evans do not have to be the “go-betweens.”
“Hopefully, going forward using a liaison and then the liaison could at the council level, could say, ‘They had their meeting last night, and they don’t understand our issues here. We need to be a little more clear,’” suggested Botchie.
“Will the sign issue be taken care of before the road construction starts?” asked Teresa Casapulla, referring to the Route 26 widening project.
“We’re very concerned about it from the administrative end,” said Botchie. “We’re going to work hard to get it done.”
“We have an opportunity here to correlate this with the expansion of Route 26,” added Commissioner Jim Koozer.