Sussex County seeking moratorium on off-premise, electrical signs

29 SIGNS ad wrap building

Sussex County Council is pursuing a moratorium on off-premise billboards and electronic signs. Pictured is an ad-wrap encompassing a building along Rt. 26 east of Dagsboro.

GEORGETOWN – “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign …”

Lyrics from The Five Man Electrical Band’s 1971 hit have struck a nerve with Sussex County Councilman George Cole, who says Sussex County is littered with off-premise billboards and electrical signs.

“I’m sick and tired of waiting and waiting,” said Mr. Cole, R-Ocean View. “It’s getting out of hand.”

County Council’s longest-serving member, Mr. Cole wants a moratorium on applications. He also believes County Code needs to be reviewed and updated with a new ordinance.

“I don’t think we can wait until this new land use plan comes up. I think we need to address it. I would propose stop taking applications,” said Mr. Cole. “I think we need to rewrite the whole ordinance. It’s a mess out there.”

Messy and also confusing, Mr. Cole says.

“I have had some communication with the (County) Board of Adjustment president (Dale Callaway), who is relaying to me that there they have real problem with the electronic signs,” said Mr. Cole, adding that basically the County’s current ordinance “doesn’t have teeth. The Board (of Adjustment) doesn’t know what to do. They need direction.”

County Attorney Everett Moore acknowledged “there is a concern with the Board of Adjustment and with Jamie sharp who is the attorney for the Board. They had addressed a letter to the Council for some input on the sign issues.”

Mr. Moore said a moratorium would have to go through the same notice/public hearing process as an ordinance.

“In regard to what can be done immediately, we just can’t make a motion to stop taking applications because if you look at a moratorium it would have to be in the form on an ordinance,” Mr. Moore said.

Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson, who serves the County’s Planning & Zoning, said moratoriums carry time limitation, usually six months.

This issue comes as the County hopes to hire planning consultants in the near future. Down the road the County will be updated its comprehensive plan.

“Our intent and our hope were to put the sign ordinance rewrite as item No. 1 for our new hire consultant,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson.

Mr. Moore planned to have an ordinance draft for a moratorium on off-premise billboards and electronic signs for consideration at County Council’s July 28 meeting. Future steps would include public hearings before Planning & Zoning and County Council.

A workshop with County Council, staff and the Board of Adjustment is also being considered.

County Planning & Zoning Director Lawrence Lank noted that on premise signage/billboards are permitted with some size limitation.

Mr. Cole said Sussex County has become a cluster haven for billboards and electronic signs. He shared highlights of a recent trip he and fellow County Councilman Sam Wilson took to Charlotte, N.C.

“I don’t think we saw one electronic sign the whole way,” Mr. Cole said. “We have electronic signs that are very distracting along two lanes, like Rt. 26 … a new cluster of billboards.”

Noting the distraction to motorists, Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Lewes, said “it’s a matter of public safety.”

Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, made note of an ad-wrap building east of Dagsboro on Rt. 26.

Council voted 4-1 to proceed down the moratorium route. Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, opposed.

“We don’t have any problems in my district I don’t have any problems. Nobody has called. We’re on the west side,” said Wilson. “If you want to make a moratorium I’ll vote. George Cole’s district, can have one and Joan, if you want one I’ll vote for yours, too. But I will not vote for one on the west side for a moratorium.”

“This is county problem, not a district problem,” said Mr. Cole. “We are elected to County Council from districts. We represent Sussex County. This is a county problem, Sam. I’m getting sick and tired of everybody saying ‘In my district’ … we need to sit here and we look after the county. Sussex County comes first Sam – not your little district; not my little district … we have a county problem.”

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

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

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