County council defers on electronic sign decision

The Sussex County Council this week deferred any action on an ordinance regarding electronic messaging signs. In February, Planning & Zoning commissioners voted to recommend approval of an ordinance creating a process by which off-premise electronic signs could be approved as special uses.

Off-premise signs include advertising for any business that is not located on the same property as the signage. They typically come in the form of a billboard.

Safety and distractions to drivers were common concerns noted by the public and several of the commission members at the P&Z and county council public hearings on the proposed ordinances. Additional concerns were raised at the county council’s public hearing, as were questions about what other counties and states allow the signs, the related DelDOT requirements and information on technical aspects of the signs.

In addition to those concerns, county council members also heard from several supporters of the signs at their public hearing in early February.

The commission approved a recommendation to allow off-premise signs, “which may include an electronic messaging display, if specifically applied for and approved as part of a special-use exception.”

Additional language included a sentence that reads “if approved as part of the special-use exception, the standards for electronic messaging displays contained in Section 115-159.5 a-4 (or more stringent state or federal standards) shall apply.”

Off-premise signs are currently allowed by right in the C-1 (Commercial), CR-1 (Commercial-Residential) and Industrial zones, which would not change.

County Councilman George Cole said on Tuesday that he still wanted to see the signs “targeted to certain roads.”

“This doesn’t do that. … There is no critical need to decide this today,” he said.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver expressed concerns, as well, saying that the CR-1 district can include housing, so the signs could end up being near housing.

“This has been vetted,” remarked Councilman Vance Phillips. “I’m ready to vote.” He added later that he thought Cole was “trying to kill this thing by deferring.”

Councilman Sam Wilson agreed that P&Z had done a good job considering the ordinances, but added that “if George needs a couple more weeks, I’ll give him that.”

The council decided that staff would look into some language that could be added to the ordinance regarding limiting the signs to certain roads and the timing of the electronic messages before the council put it on their agenda again.

Also on Feb. 28, the council voted to set the county’s capitation tax at $3, which is the minimum required by state law, although it is not required in all three counties. The capitation tax is a tax assessed on each adult resident of the county. County Administrator Todd Lawson also asked the council to approve proposed legislation that would change the state code to “seek an amendment as it relates to capitation tax as it is levied and collected in Sussex County.”

Phillips asked whether the tax could be eliminated altogether, and Lawson replied that it could be suspended but he didn’t think it could be eliminated without the County being successful in changing state code.

Lawson also asked that the County approve a resolution to try to change state code as it pertains to personnel policies.

“It prohibits what we are allowed to do here, and is not effective. Again, we are singled out compared to the other counties, and we are asking to have the authority to work on our own personnel policies here,” explained Lawson.

The county will not meet March 6 or March 13. They will meet again on Tuesday, March 20, at 10 a.m.

In other news from the Feb. 28 council meeting:

• The council held a public hearing and voted to approve repealing ordinance No. 2227 relating to councilmanic election districts and adopting councilmanic election districts.

• The council listened to a presentation by Madeline Russell of the Delaware Nature Society on “Choosing Clean Water.” She spoke about ways people can help keep water clean in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, such as rain gardens, plant-based erosion control, street sweeping and planting of native plants.

• The County’s recent bond sale was reported as successful. They sold $61.3 million in bonds since announcing they were for sale, which means $11.5 million in savings for the County from its prior bond funding.

• The county council granted $2,500 to the Town of Millville for advertising for their farmer’s market, $1,000 to the Nanticoke Chapter of Ducks Unlimited for land preservation and $6,000 to the Laurel fire department to help furnish their remodeled main fire station and new fire substation.