Planning commission recommends new policy for EMC signs

During last week’s public hearing on electronic message center (EMC) signs, the Chesterfield County Planning Commission strayed from its own recommendation and adopted the county staff’s proposal with the exception of the distance the signs can be from one another and from residential dwellings. The staff gave a range on the time limit on individual messages.

On a motion made by Bill Brown, Dale District planning commissioner, the commission is recommending that there be no distance requirement (signs can be erected at any number of businesses along a thoroughfare); a sign can be within sight of a residentially occupied dwelling or home, and the length of time an individual message can remain statically on the EMC cannot be less than 30 seconds.

“Staff has looked at it from a fairness perspective and what we’ve been able to say is that there isn’t a spacing issue,” said Greg Allen, director of the county’s planning department. “However, if we look at it from the perspection of aesthetics along our arterial quarters, we went out and analyzed different distances and realized that1,000 feet was a good distance whereby, by the time you left one sign and no longer saw it you would see the next sign. We were trying to find a way that you wouldn’t be seeing two signs at the same time.”  

Brown’s motion and eventual 4 - 1 vote removed the spacing element altogether.

Allen presented the staff’s position on allowing EMC signs in village districts and certain highway corridors in the county. “Where the staff is, that’s where developers are moving forward with mixed used developments; when there is a mixture of residential and commercial districts together, there are occasions because of that mixture, there are certain tenants who are not very visible to the major arterials and the use of these signs would benefit how that mixture works out on the site,” Allen said and the commission agreed.

Sam Hassen, Bermuda District planning commissioner, recommended a lesser time period between message changes and location of EMCs. He said his preference would be 10 second changes “and consideration for use in these areas where we have multiple businesses. Regardless of where those might be.”
Mark James, Chairman of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber “requests approval of the plan as is presented, both the policy and the code amendments as submitted without further revision.” The Chamber’s sentiment was echoed by a number of businesses who address the commission. In fact, there was not much objection by any speaker.

One Chesterfield resident, who has watched and policed sign compliance throughout the county, said he could support most everything but allowing multiple colors.
“I can support this because a lot of this is the same as what came out of Mr. Brown’s sign committee because the sign companies wouldn’t agree,” Bob Olsen said. “But now everything’s coming back around to that and I appreciate it.”

A code compliance amendment also had to be considered. The amendment addressed how the sign policies would be enforced, including the number of times an EMC owner could violate the policy before having to turn off the sign, the regulation of the brightness of the sign and how the sign applicant would get a permit for an EMC sign among other things.

The planning commission voted unanimously to accept the staff’s recommendations. The policy and code amendment will now move to the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors for final approval.  

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