Prince Frederick, MD – A much-anticipated—and in some cases, dreaded—final decision of sign regulations for Calvert County’s unincorporated locations is on the agenda of the Tuesday, Dec. 12 meeting of the Calvert County Commissioners. The vote will conclude a process started over a half-dozen years ago when an ad-hoc committee comprised of representatives of local boards and commissions, business associations, realtors, builders, sign companies, civic and citizen associations, plus other groups and individuals began meeting to discuss revisions. The process met a roadblock a few years ago due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberation of Reed vs. Town of Gilbert. As a result of the high court’s decision, any sign regulations must be content neutral.
The Calvert County Planning Commission crafted a package of recommendations for the county commissioners’ approval. The proposed text amendments will rescind current regulations in the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance and replace them with the new regulations. Following a joint public hearing in August, the two panels agreed to keep the public record open for 30 days. At the suggestion of a former planning commission member, the staff of the county government’s Department of Planning and Zoning conducted three informational meetings, one in each election district. Department staff confirmed last month that a high volume of written comments were received during the 30-day period.
Among the more controversial components of the proposed regulations will be permitting electronic messaging centers (EMCs) in most areas of the county. Applicants in the Dunkirk Town Center and two zoning districts in Solomons will need to obtain a special exception before an EMC may be lawfully erected. The electronic messaging centers will be prohibited in designated historic districts and residential areas that do not have mixed use development. An electronic message may not move more than once every 20 seconds.
“Please do not allow any electronic messaging centers anywhere,” Miriam Gholl of the Calvert Coalition for Smart Growth stated in remarks submitted to the Department of Planning and Zoning back in September. “They are unattractive, unnecessary and a major distraction to drivers. If allowed, please do not allow two such signs on corner lots.” Gholl, a retired county government planner, was critical of several other components of the proposed regulations. She stated, “allowing all the same types of signs outside the town centers will ruin our rural landscape. Also the additional types of signs—such as temporary—adds to the sign clutter.” Of allowing illuminated signs in all areas, Gholl declared, “[it] will further erode the rural character outside the town centers.”
The coalition circulated a online survey, which was answered by 239 individuals. Most offered criticism of the proposals. “I don’t want any part of our county to be ‘Waldorfed,’ ” stated one survey participant. Another stated, “our county is not Beverly Hills, California but a beautiful county with wonderful amenities, opportunities and a history which must be preserved.
The regulation changes have garnered widespread support from Calvert’s business community. “Our members have many issues to worry about when starting and maintaining their businesses,” stated Calvert County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Robert E. Carpenter. “Thank you for making the creation of and the maintenance of our businesses a little easier.” In a message to the Department of Planning and Zoning, Carpenter stated the local chamber’s entire board of directors supported the sign regulation changes.
“The proposed regulations are a vast improvement to the existing ordinance and will simplify the interpretation and enforcement of sign regulations in the future,” stated Marrick Properties Vice President C.R. “Rick” Bailey Jr.
The commissioners’ consideration of the proposed sign ordinance changes is scheduled to occur prior to the weekly meeting’s traditional call for public comment.
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