Prince Frederick, MD – After a half-dozen years it appears Calvert County’s long process to revise its sign regulations is but one vote away. During their Nov. 15 meeting the Calvert County Planning Commission deemed the proposed regulations presented by the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning to be consistent with the jurisdiction’s Master Plan, and forwarded them to the county commissioners with a recommendation for approval. The planning commission also voted on four related options regarding certain components of signage regulation. The most controversial of those components involves electronic messaging centers, which are currently prohibited outside of town centers but allowed with restrictions that were specific to each town center. Another controversial component is the increased allowable height and sign area for signage within town centers.
The hearing room was barely half-full and planning commission members did not have many questions to ask during long-range planner Jenny Plummer-Welker’s presentation. In a memo to the panel, Plummer-Welker noted “the proposed amendments would rescind the current regulations in the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance.” She also stated that over 460 pages of comments on the proposed regulations were received from Aug. 4 until the official close of public comment—Sept. 21. At its October meeting, the planning commission requested a comparison of the first draft of the sign regulations with the proposals that were taken to the August public hearing.
“We won’t please everyone,” Calvert Planning Commission Chairwoman Carolyn McHugh predicted prior to Plummer-Welker’s presentation. Indeed, the permitting of taller signs, including dramatic increases in areas of the Prince Frederick Town Center plus the easing of restrictions on electronic messaging centers, has drawn criticism from those citizens who spoke out against the proposals during a joint public hearing in August.
“Based on what I heard at the public hearing, I’m disappointed there wasn’t more discussion about the comments made and submitted,” said Earl “Buddy” Hance of Port Republic. “It appears those comments weren’t even considered. Hance, a former secretary of the Maryland Agriculture Department, recently announced his intention to run for county commissioner in 2018.
Not all of the comments received at the August hearing were critical of the proposals, as several business leaders urged the two panels to take action to shed the county’s reputation for being unfriendly to business but easing the signage measures.
“The Calvert County Chamber of Commerce applauds the Calvert County Planning Commission,” a press release from the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce stated. “The planning commission’s Nov. 15 action was long overdue. For six years, Calvert County’s government has created task forces, held hearings, held public forums, met with community groups and asked the public about signs. County residents and business owners have debated where signs should be allowed, how high the signs should be, how big the signs should be, and whether signs should be illuminated for years and years. The discussions have been extensive and thorough.”
Regarding the options the planning commission was presented for some unresolved issues, the panel voted to recommend allowing permanent signs with temporary messages on bus shelters. Regarding the controversial issue of electronic messaging centers, the planning commission voted to recommend “Option C,” which would allow for the signs in six town centers pending the approval of that town center’s architectural review committee. Architectural review would also be required outside town centers and in two town centers—Dunkirk and Solomons, a special exception would need to be granted by the county’s Board of Appeals. Several attendees at the August public hearing urged the panels to select the option of prohibition the electronic messaging signs across the board. Several of the critics declared the flashing signs as a potential distraction to drivers.
When asked by Planning Commission Member Steven Jones about county government’s plan for enforcing the rules about electronic messaging centers, Department Director assured the panel the department is prepared to implement an enforcement plan.
Regarding the options for regulating free-standing signs for lots/parcels with narrow road frontage of less than 50 feet or a shape that prevents the freestanding sign along the road, allow signage to be placed on adjacent lot/parcel, the planning commission chose Option C—locate on a separate sign, no reduction of maximum size, or incorporate both parcels’ signage into one sign, provided the one sign does not exceed combined maximum sign area for the individual parcels.
Since the Calvert County Commissioners are not meeting Tuesday, Nov. 21, a decision on the planning commission’s recommendations won’t occur until after Thanksgiving.
Contact Marty Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org