Commission to take up two electronic sign requests

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Requests for two electronic message signs, both by CVS Pharmacy, are among the cases the Planning Commission is set to hear at its July 20 meeting.

The pharmacy has requested that computer-controlled, variable message electronic signs be permitted at pharmacies planned for the northeast corner of Iron Bridge and Centralia roads in the Dale district and the southeast corner of Midlothian Turnpike and South Providence Road in the Midlothian district, according to staff reports on the requests.

Last week, Planning Commission Chairman William “Bill” Brown, who represents the Dale district, cited two reasons for the jump in electronic sign applications: economic recovery and the fact that “right now it’s pretty clear” that the county’s sign policy isn’t going to change in the near future. Planning Director Kirk Turner said the applications were filed during the fee holiday while the application fee was $200, so they weren’t taking much of a risk by applying.

The planning staff has recommended denial of both requests because they don’t conform to the adopted policy for such signs and “the requested exceptions to the policy could set a precedent for similar requests,” a staff report says.

For both signs, the pharmacy has proffered that: Copy will be limited to no more than two lines, which shall not move, but may fade; the message or display will change no more than once every 10 seconds; the copy display color will be white or yellow; messages will not flash or travel; and bijou lighting and animations effects will be prohibited.

At the location at Iron Bridge and Centralia roads, the sign would be 15 feet high, and the electronic message unit would measure 31 inches by 7 feet, 9 inches, according to the staff report.
The proposal doesn’t conform to the Electronic Message Center Policy, which prohibits such signs in the Courthouse Area Design District, which abuts Iron Bridge Road between Frith Lane and Greenyard Road, the report says. Also, the sign would be visible and located less than 1,000 feet from residentially-zoned properties.

“I don’t give that one much chance of success,” Turner said of the proposed sign in the Courthouse Area Design District.

Brown said he hadn’t yet sat down and talked to the applicant about the sign proposed in the Dale district. He noted that Walgreens, another pharmacy, plans to build a store on another corner at the intersection of Iron Bridge and Centralia roads.

“It’s clear to me that whatever we decide is going to apply to both stores,” he said.

Applications for such signs often draw community comment. The policy adopted by the board limited the signs to certain areas and corridors, Turner said, but “what we’re finding, though, is there is interest in using those signs outside those areas.” Sometimes, the signs are proposed in areas with citizens who tend to be involved in zoning and development issues, he said.

“It’s a matter of aesthetics,” he said.

“People perceive them [electronic signs] as being unattractive and distractions for drivers,” Brown said. The distraction problem can likely be mitigated by requiring a “long enough” period of time between message changes, he said.

At this point, there is no direction from the board to revisit the sign policy, Turner said. But, a new zoning ordinance will need to be adopted as part of the comprehensive plan process, he said, and that will involve looking at all of the county’s standards; that would be a likely time to revisit the sign policy.

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