Sign of the times: County council extends moratorium on special use applications

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County’s moratorium on special-use exception applications for off-premises signage will continue at least through mid-June.

County Council at Tuesday’s meeting approved a three-month extension to county ordinance No. 2414 enacted Sept. 15, 2015.

The current moratorium, which mainly targeted billboards, is set to expire March 15.

The vote was 4-1. Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, who has opposed the moratorium from the get-go, voted against the extension.

The moratorium enactment last September – also by a 4-1 with Mr. Wilson opposing – coincided with the county’s effort to reform its sign ordinance.

A working group met in a series of workshop sessions, reviewed the current ordinance and has formulated recommendations. The final workshop was conducted Feb. 9.

Specific recommendations are tentatively scheduled to be presented at the March 15 county council meeting.

“However, the moratorium that was enacted back in September is set to expire on March 15. We will not be prepared with the sign ordinance update by then,” Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson told county council. “Therefore, we need to extend the current moratorium so that we can present our recommendations to you and then draft an ordinance and then have you consider that new ordinance for an overall sign update.”

“I think we can get this done in three months. Moratoriums by their very nature shouldn’t be open-ended. So I think if we add three months to the set expiration date that gives us until mid-June for us to have an ordinance drafted, run through planning and zoning commission and brought to you for your consideration and approval,” Mr. Lawson said.

In April 2015, county council received a correspondence from the county board of adjustment regarding the board’s issues with the county’s sign ordinance. County councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, whose concerns regarding public safety and visual distraction spurred support for the moratorium, suggested that county staff, the board of adjustment and attorneys familiar with signage issues prioritize issues.

Mr. Wilson said the county is dragging its feet.

“I am wondering why it is not already done. Why do we need three more months?” said Mr. Wilson. “What is the reason for that?”

Council president Michael Vincent informed Mr. Wilson that council has not yet heard back from the planning and zoning commission or the board of adjustment on their recommendations.

“We asked them for recommendations,” said Mr. Vincent.

“It sounds like we are killing time. We are holding up people that want to put signs up. We are just dragging our feet,” said Mr. Wilson. “We’ve had enough time off here we could have had this done. We’ve had days off. There is no reason not to have this done.”

Mr. Cole inquired about the county’s role in enforcement during the moratorium period.

“Is it my understanding Todd on enforcement right now we are kind of laying low on enforcement until we get this resolved with the sign ordinance?” Mr. Cole said.

“We continue to be complaint driven,” said Mr. Lawson. “So if a specific sign is brought to our attention we will go out and have staff check the permit that is on file as well as the size and setbacks of the sign.”

Mr. Lawson added that one of the key outcomes of the working group was the level of enforcement” and direction from council as it relates to enforcement.

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

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