You've seen them all over Sussex County: feather-shaped, banner flags along county roadways to advertise everything from pizzas and hot sauce to homes and condos.
The signs are technically illegal under county code, yet the code gives county officials little ammunition to enforce the regulation.
Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, called it a gray area that needs to be fixed. Director of Planning and Zoning Lawrence Lank agreed saying it would benefit his staff to know once and for all if the flags are permitted. An updated ordinance with regulations specific to feather flags could address the concerns.
During council's Feb. 5 meeting, Cole said he is not opposed to the popular flags, but some businesses use too many. “The number is the key,” Cole said.
“We've had complaints about the number of the flags; that seems to be the real problem,” Lank said.
A recent check of the Route 1 corridor from Five Points to the Rehoboth Beach intersection found more than 40 feather flags. More than 30 were counted along Route 9 leading to Five Points.
Lank will return to council at a future meeting with more information about the number of flags in the county and also how other jurisdictions regulate feather signs. He said if council allows them, officials could place limits on how many and how long feather flags can be placed on a roadway.
Lank said prior to the early 1980s, the county's sign ordinance listed specifically which flags could be flown in front of a business including national, county and state and civic organization flags. Lank said all other flags were prohibited. “For some reason a previous council voted to change that,” he said.
Since then, Lank said, it's been left to staff interpretation to determine if a flag or banner was a permitted use.
“We've not removed any feather flags, but we have asked developers to remove them,” Lank said.
Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, said she understands the flags can be useful for attracting attention and advertising. “Even so, there are so many distractions on Route 1,” she said.
The county had a similar issue with an explosion of what officials called bandit signs placed along roads advertising home sales and open houses. In 2008, the county banned the signs on weekdays but allowed them on weekends if they are posted outside the state highway right-of-way. Even so, Lank said, some signs are placed within the state's 10-foot right-of-way and are confiscated.
County and state transportation officials have reached an agreement allowing county staff to remove the signs.