By a 3-1 vote with Midlothian commissioner Peppy Jones dissenting and Dale commissioner Michael Jackson absent, the Chesterfield County Planning Commission recommended approval of a controversial sign ordinance last week.
The June 18 meeting followed a May 21 public hearing in which 10 people spoke about the proposed ordinance, which requires approval of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors and would replace one that’s been in effect since 1992.
During the May 21 meeting, county zoning administrator Ray Cash said that the proposed ordinance would allow for replacement of “older, outdated and abandoned signs that have an impact on the landscape.” Cash said the ordinance also would require such signs to be removed or replaced with a white face within 60 days instead of 12 months.
The proposal caps the number of outdoor signs at 81 but allows them to be replaced and relocated. It also would remove some restrictions on electronic signs.
Jones was the only commissioner to speak prior to the June 18 vote.
“I like the removal of the pole signs … but that’s about it,” he said.
Jones said that he was strongly opposed to the ordinance expanding the area where billboards would be allowed. He compared it to removing liver cancer and placing it in a pancreas.
Jones also spoke out against electronic signs that would be allowed in certain areas under the proposed ordinance. “There would be a plethora of these things along the highway,” he said. “I just think the whole thing is a bad idea.”
Jeff Siffert, a representative of the Chesterfield Cabinet and ChamberRVA, called the proposal “a very good compromise for the businesses of Chesterfield.”
Bob Olson of Midlothian called the proposed ordinance the “Superior Sign-Lamar (Advertising Co.) Relief Bill.”
“Superior will get electronic signs,” Olson said, “and Lamar will get to move signs from areas where people don’t live anymore or the population is dropping.” He said those two entities were the only two who would benefit from the ordinance.
“Signs are very important to the sale of homes,” said Dana Markland of Homebuilding Association of Richmond, who spoke in favor of the ordinance. “Seniors don’t typically have technical devices to enable them to find these homes.”
Mike Uzel, co-founder of Chesterfield Citizens United, spoke against the ordinance because it would allow expansion of billboards into nine new “sign modernization areas” along main travel routes. The current ordinance requires a conditional use permit for electronic signs, which he said allows for some control, but the proposal would allow signs by right, although it still would require a conditional use permit for five areas (Chester, Midlothian and Bon Air, and sections of Belmont and Turner roads). These five areas appear to be arbitrary, he said.
“What are the provisions for enforcement?” Uzel asked. “The existing ordinance is largely not enforced.”
Allen Twedt of Superior Signs, 2511 Willis Road, supported the proposal.
“Signage is very important, especially for the small business,” he said. However, he agreed with Uzel on one point. “I don’t know why we have to carve out certain districts,” Twedt said.
The Planning Commission had postponed a vote on the ordinance from May 21 to June 18 at the behest of Clover Hill commissioner Gloria Freye, who said she needed more time.