Miriam Gholl of Calvert County MD
Retired Calvert County Department of Planning and Zoning employee Miriam Gholl said residents of each of the county’s town centers should decide their own sign regulations.

Prince Frederick, MD – A joint public hearing on proposed sign regulations for Calvert County’s unincorporated locations attracted a good-sized crowd for a late-summer weekday. The session, led by the Calvert County Commissioners and Calvert County Planning Commission, was held Tuesday, Aug. 22 at Calvert Pines Senior Center Auditorium.

The process of revising Calvert’s local measures regarding signs and consolidating them into one document has been ongoing since 2011. A Supreme Court ruling in June 2015, which determined communities could not regulate signs based on content forced Calvert officials back to the drawing board on the signage issue. Of what may still be regulated, decisions regarding store window signs, signs on bus shelters, electronic message stations and permanent, free-standing signs remain on the plates of both panels.

At the start of the hearing, County Commissioners’ Vice President Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R – District 3] delivered a response to recent letters submitted to publications that were critical of county government’s handling of issues like sign regulations and rewriting the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Slaughenhoupt affirmed the letter writers “made misleading, and in some cases untrue statements about the Comprehensive Plan process and expressed their displeasure with the sign regulation in its current draft form.” According to Slaughenhoupt, among the falsehoods is the notion that the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning is making major changes to the Comprehensive Plan land use map without input from citizens.

“We have met with hundreds of citizens on numerous occasions to explain the process and garner input,” Slaughenhoupt stated. [Department of Planning and Zoning Director] Mark Willis and his staff met with several citizens just last night, at their invitation, to discuss the Comprehensive Plan update and to review some of the details of the first draft. Included in this group was the author of one of last week’s letters.” After reciting a long list of local entities who have received presentations on the process, Slaughenhoupt added the revising of the Comprehensive Plan “is in the development phase not the approval phase.”

An overview of the proposed sign regulations was presented at the hearing by long-range planner Jenny Plummer Welker, who noted that county staff, a consultant—Compass Point Planning—and County Attorney John Norris prepared a draft of proposed sign regulations. An ad hoc committee, first formed in 2011, reviewed the draft late last year.

Among the highlights of the proposals, the draft “proposes window signs to be allowed with no restriction on the amount of window area covered by window signs, gives the commissioners the option to prohibit or allow signs on bus shelters, three options to allow electronic signs in certain areas and a fourth option to ban them entirely, and three options for free-standing signs.
“I know you want to get it right,” said Malcom Funn, a Solomons resident and former Planning Commission member. Funn said before any final decisions are made, the county government should conduct three separate meetings on the signage issue, each in one of the three election districts.

Kent Mountford

Kent Montford of Lusby (pictured left) noted that in the nearly 40 years he has lived in Calvert there has been “a terrible proliferation of signs. This [proposed regulations] has the potential to make things a lot worse.”

Of the proposed regulations, Anthony Williams of the Small Business Interest Group declared, “I’m having a hard time figuring it out.” Williams affirmed that many of Calvert’s small businesses were failing because they didn’t have proper signage.

“What better way to promote a business than with a sign?” Calvert County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Carpenter asked. Carpenter said a large majority of the local chamber’s members appreciated the county’s efforts to consolidate the regulations.

Retired Department of Planning and Zoning employee Miriam Gholl said residents of Calvert’s seven town centers should be allowed to decide what sign regulations they want, so as to avoid making the county look like “Generica America.” Adding that technology, not huge signs, aids potential customers in the location of local businesses, Gholl added, “sign control is good for small business,” adding that the revised sign regulations should not be finalized until the town center master plans are updated.

Rick Bailey

Developer Rick Bailey (pictured left), who served on the sign regulation ad hoc committee, said the draft proposals were a blend of “compromise and concessions.” He called the current regulations “complicated.” Bailey suggested county planners get input from the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office regarding the regulation of electronic message centers since the agency uses those signs. “We encourage you to adopt this,” said Bailey.

The possibility of more or even any electronic signs in Calvert County arguably drew the most amount of criticism at the hearing.

“Electronic signs cause people to take their eyes off the road,” declared Cindy Peil of Dunkirk.

Prohibiting electronic signs, said attorney and state delegate candidate Jason Fowler, “is the only option for Calvert County.”

Planning Commission Member John Toohey made the motion to recommend holding the record open for 30 days to allow for additional public comment and outreach by the Department of Planning and Zoning. The motion passed. Before the county commissioners voted on the recommendation, Commissioner Pat Nutter [R – District 2] addressed the audience. “I don’t want to drag this out another four years,” said Nutter, reminding opponents of the proposed regulations that the county’s already strict enforcement of such things as sign regulation has resulted in accusations local leaders are not business friendly. Nutter affirmed he does not want Calvert County “to look like South of the Border [in South Carolina].” Nutter assured attendees that county government staff would meet with any citizens to address concerns about the proposals.

To view the proposed sign regulations visit the Calvert County Government web site. Click this link to access information on the proposals  

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com