The tale of two EMC signs

If the Planning Commission wants to convene a committee to revisit the county’s electronic sign policy, it can do so at any time, Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker said.

“They’re wrong if they don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that they don’t think so, I think they want the board here to send it back to them with express directions so that they can avoid accountability for starting it up again.”

At its Nov. 17 meeting, the supervisors approved a six-month deferral of a request for an electronic message center (EMC) sign at a car wash on Iron Bridge Road. Both the planning staff and Planning Commission recommended denial of the request.

The deferral of the car wash sign came the day after the Planning Commission recommended approval of a computer-controlled, variable message, electronic sign on property located at 10016 Jefferson Davis Highway. In its report on the proposed sign, which was requested by James and Gail Davis of Jefferson Davis Investments LLC, the staff recommends approval because the sign conforms to the zoning ordinance and EMC sign policy.

Paul Grasewicz, who has spoken against EMC signs not in compliance with the policy, said he thought he should offer his support to those signs that do comply. Bob Olson, another frequent EMC sign opponent, said the application was one of the very few he could remember that complied with the policy.

On Nov. 17, the supervisors took up an application from Flagstop Car Wash and Quick Lube, which is seeking a computer-controlled, variable message, electronic sign at its 11031 Iron Bridge Road location. The sign will replace the removable letter marquis sign that is part of the business’ shared sign with Wawa, according to a letter Flagstop owner Robert C. Schrum, Jr. sent to neighboring property owners.

At the Planning Commission’s October meeting, the planning staff recommended denial of the request because it didn’t conform to the county’s EMC policy. The application sought three lines of copy, a six-second message interval and full color; the policy permits no more than two lines of copy, a minimum 10-second message interval and white or amber lights.

Bermuda Commissioner Sam Hassen said approving EMC signs that deviate from the policy could create “an enforcement nightmare.” Until he sees the supervisors hint at any movement to change the policy, he said, he sees no need to “get the community in an uproar” to discuss the signs.

On Nov. 17, Bermuda Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle requested a six-month deferral of the case.

Schrum said he and Jaeckle had talked, and “hopefully we’re going to get some committee stuff back and take another look at this ordinance.”

During the public hearing, Olson said the board’s policy is normally to defer to the district supervisor when they want to defer a case. But, he said, a deferral is not warranted in this case, because the staff and Planning Commission have already recommended denial.

“There is no sense in continuing this again and again unless somehow there is a possibility that someday the policy might be changed,” he said. “I don’t see the will of the board to change that policy. I don’t see why we should put it off.”

Allen Twedt, of Holiday Signs, said he’d like to see the case deferred. He said he’d “like to see things coagulate again where we could start having some discussion and make some progress toward addressing the current policy, which I think need to be looked at and changed.”

Grasewicz said a committee had attempted “fairly recently” to revise the policy.

“I don’t think the Planning Commission should really be spending valuable time right now analyzing electronic sign policies when they have your new comprehensive plan coming to them in the next month or so,” he said.

Bill Baker said the policy should be brought up to date so EMC signs could “equitably be applied” throughout the county, he said. “It is ridiculous the way that we continue to fight this situation with electronic signs,” he said.

Jaeckle said one of the things the fee holiday brought to light was the business community’s desire to revisit the sign issue. Some signs that are classified as EMC signs are “really almost an updated reader board,” she said. She’s heard from the business community that there’s a desire to allow something between an EMC sign and a traditional reader board.

“Several members of the Planning Commission have told me they are not going to approve anything unless we work on the policy,” she said. “My member’s been asking the board to let that committee reconvene.”

Gecker said the commission has the authority to convene a sign committee at any time. Also, he noted, the board’s decisions on EMC signs have been in accordance with the existing policy. “Which certainly does not indicate a desire on the part of the board to make changes to that policy,” he said.

The panel voted 4-1, with Dale Supervisor Jim Holland in dissent, to grant the six-month deferral.

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