FENWICK ISLAND – A funding request is expected to help members of a Fenwick Island committee revise an electronic sign ordinance.
Following a presentation last Thursday, members of the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee voted unanimously to seek up to $6,000 from the town council to hire outside assistance in revising an electronic sign ordinance. Mayor Natalie Magdeburger said a technical advisor would be beneficial in creating a draft ordinance that not only follows dark skies initiatives but supports the needs of the business community.
“I would like to take a stab at drafting an ordinance that theoretically would, perhaps, lessen the light burden we have and clearly bring us into the 21st century in terms of what we have in town,” she said.
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.
Since that time, committee members have been working on revisions to the proposed electronic sign ordinance. And last Thursday, the group invited Rick Utting, vice chair of outdoor lighting standards for the Illuminating Engineering Society, to talk about dark skies initiatives and electronic signage recommendations.
Following Utting’s presentation, Magdeburger told committee members she wanted to seek technical assistance in drafting an electronic sign ordinance. She said this would allow the group to include certain lighting parameters that would protect residents, motorists and pedestrians while supporting businesses.
“I think I’d like to hire Rick or somebody he recommends to help us with that technology,” she said. “We can do an action plan for council for this coming meeting. I know it’s still delaying things, but I think it would be helpful to see what it would look like and see what it would do, theoretically, to our town.”
Magdeburger said she had concerns about the town’s current ordinance and how it was enforced. She noted, however, that she did not want an ordinance that would allow electronic signs to proliferate.
“I think this is an issue that’s very layered,” she said. “There’s a technical aspect, there’s a ‘what I want’ aspect, there’s a ‘what I need’ aspect, there’s a legal aspect, where we need to peel back the layers.”
Magdeburger said developing an electronic sign ordinance with the help of a technical advisor would be a “win-win” for the town, as it would set restrictions on electronic signage while allowing businesses to utilize new technology. She added that the town’s desire for a vibrant business district was also outlined in its comprehensive plan.
“It doesn’t mean we want to be Ocean City, but that we should balance our support for both the businesses and residents so we can live in harmony,” she said.
After further discussion, a motion was made to request up to $6,000 from the Fenwick Island Town Council to seek technical assistance in the drafting of an electronic sign ordinance. Committee member John Nason said he supported the idea.
“I think this possibly presents the most complex task that’s been handed to the C&O committee. There’s so many issues impinging on the creation of this ordinance …,” he said. “I think we can come up with an ordinance that will hopefully be acceptable to the business community, to the residential community and will also take serious consideration of the dark sky initiative. With that being said, I think it’s time we go into the next century.”
Magdeburger agreed, noting that the ordinance would incorporate dark skies initiatives.
“Dark skies is not no light, it’s unnecessary light,” she explained. “And who it is that decides what’s necessary I think has to be the folks who use it. When you take away a property right from the owner of a property, you’ve got to respect how they want to use it and for what purposes.”
Committee member Roy Williams, however, shared his concerns. He said he did not want an electronic sign ordinance that would negatively impact residents.
“I want to make sure we look at how this is going to affect the residents,” he said. “This is a big deal.”
Magdeburger said the ordinance would incorporate language that limit the size of the electronic boards, prohibit certain colors and implement a curfew, among other things.
“The only thing we’re talking about is allowing message boards that we already have in town that are lit up already, illuminated already, letting them basically have the ability to put in an electronic board on there as opposed to a manual board,” she said.
Following public comments, the charter and ordinance committee voted unanimously to forward its recommendation to the Fenwick Island Town Council.
“I don’t mind taking a stab at drafting ordinances, but I would like to have technical assistance …,” Magdeburger said. “Once we have it drafted and can talk about it, then we have to make a decision if we have the political will to change it at all.”