Cook also said the county has two code enforcement officers who will be enforcing the new sign ordinance, but the department also relies on citizens calling in to report noncompliance.

“What are we gaining with larger signs, with backlit signs, with temporary signs that seem to be permanent?” asked Anita Brown of Dunkirk. “The larger sign doesn’t do it for me. What is the purpose changing the regulations?”

Jim Winship of Prince Frederick said he thought the new sign regulations were a recipe for sign wars as businesses will continually try to one-up each other with a bigger sign.  “This is a formula for not enforcing sign regulations; this is a formula for, in fact, granting exemption after exemption after exemption,” said Winship.

There was a consensus from attendees that the business community was the impetus behind the massive changes to the regulations, and some agreed they want the county to be business friendly but to not let businesses drive the county.

Outside the Sept. 12 sign regulations meeting on the Prince Frederick campus of the College of Southern Maryland stands PVC pipe constructed to demonstrate the new sign height limits within proposed sign ordinance drafted in November of 2016. Susan Dzurec of Huntingtown created the demonstration. STAFF PHOTO BY TAMARA WARD

County holds meeting, former commissioner holds court

By TAMARA WARD tward@somdnews.com

Citizens demanded more transparency on sign regulations as Calvert County Planning and Zoning staff conducted public meetings to present proposed text amendments to the regulations and to answer citizens’ questions this week.

A public meeting in Prince Frederick on Tuesday was one of two held by the planning department in response to numerous citizen concerns over the sign revision process expressed during a late August joint public hearing between the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners. The two boards agreed to defer a decision and keep the record open for 30 days for more citizen input.

Roughly 17 residents showed up at the College of Southern Maryland on Tuesday — but the few had much to say about the proposed regulations that are reportedly content neutral, simplified, reorganized for ease of use and consolidated from eight zoning ordinances.

“I was THE county commissioner that pushed for redoing the sign ordinance and I am extremely, extremely disappointed in what’s happened here,” said former Calvert County commissioner Susan Shaw.

Shaw said when she left office in January 2015 there was supposed to be a very short hold on the sign regulations as the county attorney looked at the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on content-based signs. In the time between, Shaw said the proposed regulations morphed into something “completely different.”

“What you have now, if there ever was an example of a lack of transparency, this has got to be it,” added Shaw, stating that the Sign Ad Hoc Committee that had worked on the regulations on their personal time for nearly three years was not called back to look at the most recent draft.

“At this point, this is nothing but an effort to go around the citizens, which is why they keep asking for meetings. More meetings is not the answer … the answer here is to go back to the proposed sign ordinance that you had in January 2015 and in a transparent matter address it from that point forward,” stressed Shaw, receiving applause from the audience.

Typed on a sign are the proposed dimensions of permanent signs in the Prince Frederick Entry District — 22ft. The sign sits a top PVC pipe constructed to show new sign height limits in proposed sign ordinance drafted in Nov. of 2016. A Jan. 2015 draft sets the maximum height at 12 feet. The demonstration is outside a Sept. 12, 2017 public meeting on the proposed regulations. STAFF PHOTO BY TAMARA WARD

Betsy Detwiler of Plum Point wears a sign that illustrates signs ruin rural Calvert County and a balloon hat to demonstrate the “fancy tall signage” proposed in the county’s sign ordinance at a public meeting on the proposed regs on Sept. 12 in Prince Frederick. Detweiler who moved from 7 Corners, Virginia where there was a lot of development urged county planning staff not to “make Calvert another Virginia.” STAFF PHOTO BY TAMARA WARD

Retired county principal planner Randi Vogt, armed with a carefully prepared handout showing the difference between a June 2, 2015, draft and Nov. 15, 2016, draft of the proposed sign regulations, questioned the rationale behind some of the changes, to include sign height. Vogt gave kudos on the process for the 2015 draft, but urged the planning department to get more public input on the November draft.

Former county planner Miriam Gholl asked “why the rush?” and suggested the county delay the amendments to give each town center the opportunity to review the regulations against their own town center master plan, which are not expected until the comprehensive plan update and zoning ordinance rewrite process is completed. She also inferred it was too much for the same staff to be working on the sign regulations while working on a “major” planning undertaking.

“It’s poor management on the commissioners’ part to be making spot changes to the zoning ordinance when you should be focusing all of your attention on the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance,” said Gholl, suggesting they wait six months to a year and put the sign changes in at that time.

Former commissioner Susan Shaw cries foul on new sign regulations Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO BY TAMARA WARD

Calvert County Director of Planning and Zoning Mark Willis addresses citizen concerns about the rushing of the proposed sign regulations at a public meeting on Tuesday in Prince Frederick. Deputy Director of Zoning Mary Beth Cook, left, and Principal Planner Jenny Plumber-Welker, center, look on. STAFF PHOTO BY TAMARA WARD

Planning and Zoning Director Mark Willis said the sign regulations stalled when he came on board 18 months ago and still needed the county attorney’s review.

“Once that review was done we had no guidance to slow down, to speed up, to do anything. So, we got it on the agenda when we could get it on the agenda,” explained Willis, on the department’s approach.

Many citizens shared concern over the signs threatening the county’s rural character. Other citizens specifically questioned where in the guidance it covers “litter on a stick,” the time limit on temporary signs and who will enforce the sign regulations.

“The litter on a stick would be a temporary sign, but the ones along Route 4 are in the state’s right of way, not within our jurisdiction,” said Deputy Director of Zoning Mary Beth Cook.

Principal Planner Jenny Plummer-Welker clarified that the state did give the county jurisdiction to fine violators, but that would take an action from the BOCC.

“We have not set a time limit for temporary signs. We are regulating the type of signs and the materials,” explained Cook. “If they’re permitted by the new ordinance as a temporary sign then there is no time limit placed on temporary.”  Plummer-Welker said the definition of a temporary sign is the structure of the sign is temporary.

This is an unedited article that appeared in the September 13, 2017 Calvert Recorder.

For more information about the proposed sign regulations, click here.