County planners recommend off-premise sign ordinance

Sussex County Planning & Zoning commissioners this week voted to recommend approval of an ordinance creating a process by which off-premise electronic signs could be approved as special uses and voted to recommend against adoption of a second ordinance that would have prohibited the signs.

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 constituents 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 last week, 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.

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.

Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson, who works with the Planning & Zoning Commission, said regulations referring to electronic messaging signs already exist in county code, and the additional sentence added “makes it clear for everybody” that those standards, or more stringent standards – such as those outlined by DelDOT regulations – shall apply.

As it stands now, property owners need a special-use exception for any off-premise sign, and electronic messaging would require an additional special-use approval. Existing signs would also not be “grandfathered in” to automatically be allowed to change from using a static message to a changeable one.

The Sussex County Council will make a final decision on the issue, taking into account the recommendation of approval from Planning & Zoning.