Sussex officials get serious about sign violations

So far, most complaints focus on brightness of electronic message signs
December 18, 2017

After updating county sign regulations almost a year ago, Sussex County officials have been cracking down on violations.

So far the county has received 52 complaints, said Sussex County Director of Planning and Zoning Janelle Cornwell during an update at county council's Dec. 12 meeting. She said planning and zoning inspector Steve Hickman has investigated each complaint and sent out 39 violation letters; six have not been resolved.

She said the majority of complaints have been about excessive brightness from electronic messaging signs.

Hickman said he does not rely solely on residents' complaints but also investigates possible violations as he witnesses them.

Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, asked about sign owners who push the envelope. "We do bring violations to their attention," Hickman said.

"He knows where the tricky ones are, and he stays on top of them," Cornwell said.

Hickman said it appears the majority of violations can be resolved by meeting with sign or business owners. "None have been taken to court yet," he said.

"We can turn the violation over to the constable's office if not corrected," Cornwell said.

At that point, violators are eventually subject to a $100-a-day-fine.

Over the past year, Hickman has inspected every billboard and electronic message sign in the county for compliance with county regulations.

Cornwell said steps are being taken to be proactive and improve customer service.

• County staff uses new technology to measure the dimensions and height of signs electronically, and for the first time, the county has a light meter to measure light emitted from electronic message signs.

• County staff perform on-site visits with sign companies before and after sign permits are issued.

• Sign permits can be completed online through the county website.

• Hickman is in the process of scanning all sign permits – which go back to 1980 – into the county's computer system.

• Hickman is issuing 80 to 150 invoices each month for sign permit renewals to keep that process up to date.