P & Z Commission’s recommendation: No moratorium

26 SIGNs moratorium

Sussex County’s Planning & Zoning Commission has recommended that County Council not pursue a moratorium on accepting special-use exception applications for billboards and off-premise signage.

 

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County’s proposed six-month moratorium on accepting special-use exception applications for off-premise signs and billboards does not have the support of the County’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

At its Aug. 27 meeting, commissioners voted 4-0, recommending that Sussex County Council not pursue a moratorium.

Instead, the commission consensus was to take a workshop route and address concerns expressed by the County’s Board of Adjustment in an April 2015 letter to County Council.

“I just think a moratorium on signs … I don’t see where that’s needed,” said Commissioner Irwin “I.G.” Burton III. “I think what we need to do is get an ordinance done. I think we should put ourselves on the front burner and get an ordinance; maybe talk with the Board of Adjustment and find out what their feeling is. I think this originated from them to Council.”

“I don’t know that we need a moratorium,” said Commissioner Rodney Smith. “I think I could be supportive of a moratorium of say six months if I had the assurances that at the end of that six months that we would indeed have an ordinance in place. I would be aghast if I thought I voted for a moratorium and after five months or five months and two week we found that there was no forward momentum, that we had just sort of ceased and desist the signs. We deal with our issues and this sign (issue) is under Board of Adjustment.”

The moratorium proposal was spurred by senior County Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, who says off-premise signs and billboards present “safety problems, distractions and other things. We’ve got problems with size. We’ve got problems with variances. And you know a variance should only be issued for hardship. And I guarantee you many of the variances we have issued for signs and billboards are not because of hardship. I think we have exposed ourselves. The county needs to tighten it up and fix the ordinance.”

The moratorium would provide time to review current County Code regarding not only off-premise signs but all signage in general, Mr. Cole said.

Planning & Zoning Commission – with only three of five members present for discussion at its Aug. 13 meeting – deferred action on the moratorium issue.

In turn, County Council following a public hearing Aug. 25 deferred action.

Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank said County Council’s intent – in light of the Board of Adjustment’s concerns – was to create a moratorium that would allow for the Board of Adjustment, Planning & Zoning Commission, County Council along with interested parties, County staff and attorneys to hold a workshop to resolve the issue of the sign ordinance.

“So we prepared an ordinance,” said Mr. Lank.

“There have been some preliminary steps on meetings and meeting dates for doing that. So that’s in the works,” said Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson.

Commissioner Marty Ross stated that “the Board of adjustment wrote a very thoughtful and measured letter about their concerns regarding the off-premise signs. The purpose of a moratorium is to basically put something on hold because there is a rash of consequence. In this case this ordinance was announced that we were considering a moratorium that typically if there was some kind of a crisis there would be a line at the office all the way out to The Circle of applicants trying to beat the action of the moratorium. But there is no line. There is no queue of off-premise billboards, things are very normal. So I really don’t see what a moratorium is going to get us. I think we’re better off as Mr. Burton and Mr. Smith have stated; to roll up our shirt sleeves and try to address the issues that the Board of Adjustment so thoughtfully raised. So I am in opposition to the moratorium ordinance.”

“I would concur with that,” said Commission Chairman Robert Wheatley. “I think a moratorium creates undue pressure. I think it would be more difficult to reach a reasonable ordinance to’ answer all of the concerns in the presence of that kind of situation. So I would agree. I think that 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.”

Commissioner Michael Johnson abstained from participating in discussion and the vote.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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