Sign regulations sidelined again

By TAMARA WARD tward@somdnews.com

3 hrs ago 

Forward movement on proposed amendments to the Calvert County sign regulations ground to halt Wednesday night, as the planning commission requested more materials from staff before forwarding a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. The planning board intends to revisit the issue next month.

The agenda item on the planning commission’s regularly scheduled meeting was a follow-up to an Aug. 22 joint public hearing between the two boards where they deferred a final decision on policy regarding the use of signs in the county and leaving the public comment period open for 30 additional days.

“I was hoping we might have seen a comparison of what the ad hoc committee came back with compared to what we proposed,” said planning commission chair Carolyn McHugh, apologizing and acknowledging that she may not have been clear in an earlier request to staff. “It would be helpful if the planning commission had seen a comparison of those two documents.”

The ad hoc committee was an integral part of the endeavor to revamp the county’s sign regulations and was made up of residents, business owners, citizen groups and members of county-appointed boards with the task of examining signage best practices and working with planning and zoning staff to develop a set of draft regulations.

The planning commission received a 2015 public draft of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations that predates a U.S. Supreme Court case decision that set prohibitions for content-based sign regulations. That decision forced the county to revisit the draft guidance and to develop content-neutral regulations.

Many of the attendees Wednesday night had attended the August joint public hearing and one of the two September public meetings hosted by the planning and zoning department to present the amendments. They represented a significant number of the 50 residents in attendance at the evening planning meeting and came just to hear staff’s proposal and the commission’s decision.

“The proposal is to repeal and replace the sign regulations in the zoning ordinance, to basically delete all the town center zoning ordinance,” Jenny Plummer-Welker, the county’s long-range planner, said earlier, adding that a reference statement directing people to the county sign regulations would be included.

The proposal also includes additions, amendments and deletions to definitions, as well as amendments to the Dunkirk Master Plan.

Planning commission member Steve Jones suggested the comparison document highlight the differences between the ad hoc committee’s recommendations and the current proposal. The other planning members agreed they would like to see such a document before rendering a decision on the sign regulations, thus tabling the agenda item for the evening.

McHugh later informed The Calvert Recorder that she anticipates the document will be available in time for the commission’s November meeting.

Before the commission could proceed to the next agenda item, many residents exited the meeting room and gathered just beyond the doorway to recap the series of events regarding the sign regulations. More than a half dozen concurred that the decision to defer a recommendation until the two drafts were compared was a good thing.

“If staff, as directed by the planning commission, has to put together a comparison document looking at the ad hoc and the new regs, should that be made part of the record and that record should be open again for public analysis and comment on that document?” asked Chesapeake Beach resident David Bury, before the small group.

Former county commissioner Susan Shaw informed the group that it may not require public comment because the effort may just be staff taking documents that already exist and putting them into a new format.

Planning Commission administrator Carolyn Sunderland informed the Recorder that the new document, once completed, will be made available to the public on the county website as a part of November’s agenda packet.

Planning and Zoning Director Mark Willis confirmed with the Recorder that the public record for the joint public hearing is closed and will not likely be reopened for comments on the anticipated staff document.

Packed house at Calvert County's Planning Commission meeting Oct. 18. Sign regulation amendments were a big draw, but the commission requested more documentation before rendering a decision. Staff photo by Tamara Ward