During last week’s Chesterfield Board of Supervisors meeting, the Electronic Message Center (EMC) sign was the discussion that brought the most speakers to the podium to weigh-in on the proposed policy, which included proposed policies from Greg Allen’s staff as well as the planning commission.
Ten speakers from the business community expressed their approval of the compromise that the board had constructed from the recommendations of staff and the planning commission. The other speakers spoke about how they wanted to protect specific areas from the signs, for the most part in the northern part of the county. An EMC sign can be similar to a large television or single color character display that is somewhat static like a bank clock or gas station sign’s electronic price listing.
The board discussed restricting a number of areas from allowing EMCs altogether and areas which would remain under the same policy as exists today – that is: requiring the sign applicant to get special permission from the Board of Supervisors.
On a motion by Marlene Durfee, Matoaca District supervisor, all EMC signs were prohibited in Chesterfield’s five villages: Chester, Bon Air, Midlothian, Ettrick and Matoaca. In addition, the electronic signs were prohibited along the Midlothian Turnpike corridor, parts of Hull Street Road, the Courthouse area, historic areas as well as part of the Hopkins Road corridor in the Dale District among others.
After interrupting Durfee’s motion, and being asked to wait until the motion had been completed, Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle offered an amendment to the motion that Chester Village be eliminated from the list because she said Chester and some other villages were not real villages, referring to Chester and Midlothian.
“Although Ms. Jaeckle might say that they are not real villages, there are people who live in those not real villages who believe they are real villages,” said Dan Gecker, Midlothian District supervisor.
Jaeckle responded, “Bon Air is a little bit closer.”
“The number six best suburb in America does not want EMC today,” Gecker said of Midlothian village. “And the number six suburb in America does not want EMC tomorrow.” Gecker added that he would not shop in an area with EMC signs.
During the board comment period, Jaeckle said, “In a real village, people knew exactly what was in their village. There wasn’t a Wal-Mart two miles away.” Jaeckle added that villages typically did not have a five-lane highway running through them.
In fact, Bon Air Village has the five-lane Huguenot Road and Midlothian Village has the five-laned Midlothian Turnpike.
The board did not rule on how far away from one another the signs could be, but a distance of 1,000 feet was discussed. The time that each message could be displayed on the EMC signs was set at 30 seconds and moving images were disallowed.
Chester Village resident Carol Ray is upset about the decision to eliminate the village of Chester out of the historic villages’ protection area from EMC signs. “Many citizens and civic groups in Chester have worked hard to create a comprehensive plan and to preserve and enhance the village’s appeal,” she stated. “Attractive non-electronic Chester signs welcome visitors from east and west on Rt. 10 to the village, the streets are lined with street lights; public areas are planted and well-groomed. There are many businesses in the Chester area which do not have road frontage, but the vertical residential/commercial use designation of the Chester Village Green was seized upon by our supervisor as the excuse for her decision.” Adding, “If this type of signage is considered unattractive signage for other areas of the county why would it be appropriate for the village of Chester? Chester is just as much of an area to be protected as Bon Air, Midlothian, the Courthouse area, sections of Hull Street and other areas of the county. Why should Chester be thrown under the bus?”
Allen stated that even with the new policy for the EMC signs, applicants would go through the same process as before for approval and part of the approval is that the EMC signs are to be incorporated into an architecturally designed sign structure that is compatible and complementary to the building or project it serves.