Fenwick Committee Talks Electronic Signs, Noise Ordinance

Fenwick Committee Talks Electronic Signs, Noise Ordinance
Photo by Bethany Hooper

FENWICK ISLAND – Members of a Fenwick Island committee agreed last week to revise a proposed ordinance on electronic signage, with provisions that support the town’s dark skies initiative.

Last Thursday, members of the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee reviewed a proposed ordinance that would allow some electronic signs to be used in Fenwick Island. Citing the council’s concerns that the ordinance did little to address the town’s dark skies initiative, members agreed to revise the ordinance and add language to address issues such as brightness and color.

“I don’t think dark skies stands for the proposition that you shouldn’t have any light,” said Mayor Natalie Magdeburger, committee chair. “It’s about using light well and using the right type of light for the purpose you are intending.”

In October, the Fenwick Island Town Council voted to send an ordinance allowing certain electronic signs to be used in Fenwick Island back to the charter and ordinance committee for revisions. While the proposed ordinance, requested by members of St. Matthews By-The-Sea, would allow electronic signs displaying static written messages, council members expressed concerns that the use of such electronic signs would go against a dark skies initiative protecting the town from light pollution.

In a presentation last week, Councilwoman Janice Bortner told committee members the town’s comprehensive plan referenced town culture and the dark skies initiative. She shared her concerns about the proliferation of electronic signs and the impact it would have on the community.

“We value, and we feel the community values, what we have as far as a residential community,” she said. “We’re not looking to be Ocean City.”

Others, however, shared their support for the proposed ordinance. Warrens Station owner Scott Mumford said an electronic sign would allow his restaurant to advertise hours of operation, particularly in the off-season.

“From my standpoint, I’ll never add anything to the restaurant if it’s going to take away from the character of the restaurant and the town,” he said.

Mike Houser, representing St. Matthews By-The-Sea, said he was hoping something could be done to expedite the ordinance revisions. He said his church was looking to replace its sign with an electronic one, which he argued would produce less ambient lighting.

“Bottom line, for many years the church has been an advocate for the Town of Fenwick Island,” he said. “We’re looking for the Town of Fenwick Island to be an advocate for us as well.”

Committee members said they supported the town’s dark skies initiative and agreed to add language ensuring the proposed ordinance complied with the dark skies initiative. Magdeburger said the revised ordinance could establish the hours of operation, as well as set limitations for the color and brightness of electronic signs.

“This is more complicated than we initially viewed this to be …,” committee member Ann Riley added. “I understand the church wants to get this resolved quickly, but I don’t know that it’s something we can resolve quickly.”

Magdeburger said she would draft a revised ordinance and bring it back to the charter and ordinance committee in January.

“We want to make sure the town maintains the atmosphere we like but also permits the use of signage the business community would like to see along Route 1,” she said.

The committee last Thursday also agreed to start drafting changes to the town’s noise ordinance. With a directive from the town council to review existing regulations, Magdeburger said she was proposing the ordinance include decibel limits, time components and a fine escalation clause for repeat offenders.

“I do think we need to put a clause in there that covers multiple offenses,” she said. “I think that’s one where the fine should go up with each offense.”

In March, the town council voted to have the charter and ordinance committee review the town’s noise ordinance after Councilwoman Janice Bortner brought forth a motion to remove time constraints.

During that discussion, Bortner said that while the town code stated an enforcement time of midnight to 8 a.m., members of the town’s residential concerns committee wanted to see it removed.

“In there, it says the enforcement is from midnight to 8 a.m., and we’re saying we don’t feel that’s necessary …,” she said at the time. “It should be all the time.”

Back on the agenda last week, Magdeburger suggested hours of enforcement be changed, with a start time of 11 p.m. She also recommended the town set decibel limits based on the time of day.

“It’s good to have that hard number,” Riley added. “It’s easier to enforce.”

Lastly, Magdeburger suggested an escalation clause for repeat offenders. In the case of rental properties, she said the offender would receive the fine.

“What we have in the ordinance is it would be issued to the person violating it, and they would have to pay it,” she said. “But if there are multiple violations at that property, then the issue becomes that they lose their license to rent. So it does go back to the property owner.”

After further discussion, the committee agreed to begin drafting changes to the town’s noise ordinance.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.