Millville P&Z to review signage ordinance for ‘conflicts’

At a workshop this week, after much discussion, the Millville Town Council voted to recommend to the Planning and Zoning Commission that they revisit the town’s current sign ordinance at the request of Millville code and building administrator Eric Evans.

Evans stated that there are many “conflicts” in the current code. He also specifically asked for direction in dealing with new signage for M&T Bank, which recently purchased Wilmington Trust and is located in Millville Town Center on Route 26.

“You can create a sign ordinance that will benefit businesses and still maintain a clean drive down the road,” he said visibly frustrated after the motion to recommend revisiting the ordinance first stalled when it didn’t get a second.

Councilwoman Joan Bennett, who had raised the motion the first time with no second, raised it again, later in the meeting.

“I’ll second it,” said Councilman Robert Gordon, “only because Eric and Debbie [Botchie, town administrator] need help and it needs to be addressed. It’s going nowhere, and putting up motion after motion isn’t going to help anything.”

The council voted 3-0, with Councilman Jon Subity recusing himself, to recommend to P&Z that they revisit conflicts in the current signage code and other technical issues that could be addressed to add clarity.

“Going to the P&Z is not a pre-requisite,” explained Town Solicitor Seth Thompson. “Either way, it’s not going to have an effect until you have a public hearing.”

A review of the ordinance might not come in time to address M&T Bank signage, but, asked by Evans what he was supposed to tell bank officials, the council said the bank could always apply for a variance if they couldn’t conform to current code.

“So they need to come in here and apply for a variance for $750?” he asked, to which many on the council said “yes.”

“I just need to know what to tell them.”

“I don’t want to come off as anti-business,” asserted Bennett. “That’s not my spirit at all. It’s just how it is now. They do have a method for relief,” she said of the variance process.

Evans expressed gratitude that the council was finally willing to look at the ordinance as a whole so that applying for a variance wouldn’t be the norm; rather, the ordinance would stay up to date with current standards and would reflect the times.

The council also voted to recommend to P&Z that they revisit other ordinances that can cause conflicts or that are not clear, as explained by Evans. Those include ordinances regarding the moving of buildings; the sizes and locations of accessory structures (garages are not defined, and accessory structures have different square footage limitations than “attached” garages, for example); restaurants within the C-1 and C-2 districts; parking standards; the license ordinance regarding rental properties; and landscape requirements for commercial uses.

“We are not asking them to change it,” emphasized Evans. “We are just asking that they be able to review, make sure they are up to date, make sure there are no conflicts. They [P&Z] just want your guidance and leadership.”

Evans said that, under previous councils, as he understood it, the P&Z would make recommendations only to have them be cast aside without any real action, so he reiterated that the P&Z just needed direction on what priorities are before they make their considerations and recommendations back to council.

Also at this week’s council meeting, the council voted, again after not being able to get a second earlier in the evening, to recommend that the P&Z look specifically at a separate issue of “directional signs” for developers within town limits, so as to eliminate some of the more flimsy political-type, or “bandit,” signs advertising developments.

Bob Harris of Gulfstream Homes said that he and representatives from Beezer Homes, Ryan Homes and Millville by the Sea were looking as a group to have more “classy” signage structures in certain areas within town limits, such as the intersection of Burbage and Windmill roads, Substation and Windmill, Route 17 and Burbage, Beaver Dam and Substation and possibly Route 17 and Route 26.

“The concept might not be a bad idea,” said Mayor Gerry Hocker, adding that it might especially be useful when Route 26 gets updates and those “back” roads become the more heavily traveled routes. He asked if they would be willing to do it on a temporary basis, especially considering the imminent road construction, to which Harris responded, “Absolutely.”

Bennett said she had reservations about “Town of Millville” being on the signs, because she didn’t want it to seem like they endorsed the developments. She also questioned the precedent it would set for other businesses that might want to come together and have more permanent signage.

“It’s more attractive than what we have now,” said Harris, “and we are willing to help in any way we can. Out West, there are signs [similar to this] saying ‘Winery – 5 miles,’ etc., because that’s what people are looking for. And people are looking for these developments. We appreciate you considering it. It helps the people and the builders inside the town — it helps everybody.”

In other news from the meeting:

• The council voted to wait until they had an agreement finalized with the Delaware State Police regarding the DSP’s use of the second story of their building before considering whether to allowing certain members of the MillVols, the town volunteer group, to have 24-hour access to town hall for radio training after business hours.

Hocker offered to let them in at any time of day or evening in the time-being, adding that he wanted them to have access but didn’t want to grant them something they would then have to then take away if the DSP objected.

• Botchie stated that she needed comments and concerns from the council regarding Mediacom franchise agreement that the town has been drafting, in conjunction with the Towns of Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Ocean View.

• Regarding Phase I of the town’s Streetscape project, Botchie reported that they were not going forward with sidewalks on the east side of Cedar Drive, adding that property owners did not feel comfortable giving the rights-of way needed. She said that the “gateway to Millville” portion of the Streetscape project, at the corner of Route 26 and Old Mill Road and near the Creekside development, was still moving forward.