Commission recommends denial of pair of electronic signs

The Planning Commission last week recommended denial of a pair of electronic signs requested for pharmacies in the Dale and Midlothian districts.

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

David Stevens, who spoke on behalf of CVS Pharmacy in both cases, said he believed Chesterfield County had a good sign ordinance and a good policy, “but everything needs to be tweaked from time to time.” The pharmacy is asking for static changeable message boards, which are safer, more practical and more convenient than conventional signboards, he said.

“It is not a fully animated LED board,” he said. The pharmacy is willing to let the county set the interval at which the message would change, he said. “You tell us what you want, what’s safe,” he said.

The requested sign in the Midlothian district complies with the Electronic Message Center Policy in all but one respect: The proposed sign would be within 2,000 feet of another electronic sign, Stevens said.

During the discussion of the Midlothian request, Matoaca Commissioner F. Wayne Bass said he was an advocate for the electronic signs, but he was “a little upset” when, earlier in the meeting, a resident showed video of signs that were not operating according to the parameters approved by the county. He said he’d decided that if proposed signs didn’t adhere to the policy, they wouldn’t get his vote.

Commission Chairman William “Bill” Brown, who represents the Dale district, said he shared Bass’ concern. On the Midlothian case, the primary problem is the opposition of the business owners in the area, he said. The commission recommended denial of the Midlothian request.

According to a staff report on the Dale district proposal, the sign doesn’t conform to the electronic sign policy, which prohibits such signs in the Courthouse Area Design District, which abuts Iron Bridge Road between Frith Lane and Greenyard Road, the staff report says. Also, the sign would be visible and located less than 1,000 feet from residentially-zoned properties.

On the Dale sign, Stevens said, if he lived nearby, he would prefer the electronic message board to the “big, bright light” in a traditional sign. Also, the property in question has a condition that would allow for two 15-foot signs, he said, and the pharmacy has given up one of those.

Resident Paul Grasewicz said this case was about protecting a historic area.

“I believe it is critically important that the county continue to preserve and protect its historic areas and villages,” he said. If the county destroys or detracts from its historic resources, it risks losing Chesterfield’s special character, he said.

Larry W. Robertson asked the commission to recommend denial of the request. If this sign is approved, he said, all of the businesses in the area will want one.

Allen Twedt, of Holiday Signs, said sign technology is phenomenal now and signs can bear images that project “any kind of aesthetics you want.” “Let’s get some kind of a compromise going,” he said.

Stevens said this was the first time he’d heard opposition to the proposed sign. He asked whether the matter could be deferred, and Brown said he would use 60 of his 100 days to defer the matter.

Bermuda District Commissioner Sam R. Hassen said he knew what Stevens was saying, but he didn’t know how a deferral would help. Clover Hill District Commissioner Russell Gulley said the issue was that the proposed sign was in the historic district, and that’s not going to change in 30 or 60 days.

Brown asked Stevens whether he would be willing to change the proffered message interval for the sign from 10 seconds to 60 seconds, and Stevens agreed. Stevens withdrew his request for a deferral, saying he believed electronic message boards were the way of the future and the county’s sign policy needed to be changed.

Brown said he didn’t see the proposed sign as being any more of an intrusion on the courthouse design district than a static sign would be.

“I believe this particular case is worthy of exception,” he said. Brown moved to recommend approval of the sign, but the motion died for lack of a second.

Hassen said he favored electronic signs, but he couldn’t see wasting his time or the staff’s time on something the Board of Supervisors would reject.  The supervisors’ decisions on these cases will give the commission insight into whether they want to stay with the current policy, he said.

The commission voted 4-1, with Brown in dissent, to recommend denial of the proposed Dale district sign.

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