National Retailer Granted Sign Exception

SNOW HILL – Despite a site plan approval from last winter requiring uniform signs at White Marlin Mall, shopping center management asked Worcester County for an exception to that condition last week’s Planning Commission meeting.

A new anchor tenant, home goods store Bed Bath and Beyond, would like to use its nationally recognized logo instead of the generic red signs required under the site plan approval given last January for the redevelopment of the mall.

According to Joe Moore, the attorney representing White Marlin Mall’s property management firm, the county cannot legally require the signs to be uniform.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled in a Baltimore City case, Moore said, that signage may not be restricted because of aesthetic reasons, unless in a historical district, which the mall is not.

 “There is a reason to allow it,” Moore said.

Worcester County Planning Commission Chair Carolyn Cummins was not entirely convinced. Cummins said that the public becomes most angry when, after testifying and expressing their opinions of a project, the developer comes in later and nitpicks the conditions imposed.

There were several meetings between the management company and the commission on the redevelopment, and compromises were reached, she recalled.

It is common practice to take any condition a developer agrees to and add it to the site plan, Cummins said.

Planning Commission member Brooks Clayville remarked that the county needs stronger regulations to prevent the need for added conditions, some of which could be enshrined in the new zoning code. That could include a sign code.

“As long as there’s a purpose other than aesthetic, that’s legal,” Moore said.

Cummins added, “There are places you go where these national companies go where they don’t have national signs and they’re not just historic districts.”

The commission is concerned with cleaning up the look of the shopping center, she said.

Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting, said he had no objection to different colored signs if the design is uniform. Getting involved in dictating sign colors is a slippery slope, Tudor said.

“What happens when that color of material is not available?” Tudor asked.

The commission voted to simply eliminate the sign requirement from the site plan approval, leaving tenants free to add their own style of sign.

“Instead of doing a waiver to one, the condition was removed,” explained Burke.