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Board divided on tabling sign rules

(1/10) The Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners voted at their January 7 meeting to table their review of a volley of changes proposed by town staff for the municipal sign ordinance.

The proposed changes were tabled in a 3-2 vote, commissioners Christopher V. Staiger and Timothy O’Donnell voting against, Staiger indicating he felt that some of the changes intended to correct out-and-out errors in the ordinance could have been addressed before tabling the balance.

Commissioners Glenn Blanchard, Clifford L. Sweeney and Patrick A. Joy voted to table the ordinance generally to give local businesses a chance to comment on all the proposed changes.

Town Planner Susan Cipperly presented the proposed changes to the board, stating that the sign ordinance, especially regarding temporary signage, "has always had some issues" when it came to enforcement.

For example, she said, "A few areas in our code right now that incorrectly refer (sign permit denial) appeals to the board of appeals," which is not the case. "Our board of appeals only addresses things within the zoning ordinance (which does not include the sign ordinance)."

Addressing other perceived problematic areas of the sign ordinance, Cipperly stated that the existing ordinance distinguishes between small and large temporary signs.

"We (are proposing) just to make them all temporary signs (regardless of size), and you need a permit for any of them. This simplifies it for a person trying to put up a sign and also for enforcement."

Another one of the issues that "has occurred over the years that has not been clear" is what is meant when the ordinance indicates that the maximum allowable signage area per business or entity be 50 square feet, Cipperly stated.

Some have interpreted that to mean an applicant can have more than one sign, as long as each does not exceed the indicated square footage. It is supposed to mean, she said, that all of the signage present cannot exceed 50 square feet cumulatively.

When is comes to the number of commercial and promotional signs permitted per applicant, the current ordinance states the number should be "kept to a minimum," which, Cipperly said, "is really not enforceable." Staff suggested two be allowed per applicant.

The current ordinance also prohibits temporary signage above the second floor window of any structure, which, Cipperly stated, "has not been the practice" and would prohibit banners such as those commonly hung above the Town square.

She recommended this be changed as was previously changed to allow permanent signs above the second story window.

That’s been a problem over the years as far as people trying to understand the ordinance and try to figure out what they’re allowed to do.

The review of the proposal will continue at an upcoming board meeting.

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