Kent County applies for a sign variance … with itself

Michael Petit de Mange

FREDERICA — Neither Kent County Department of Planning Services Director Sarah Keifer nor County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange can recall a time when the county has had to apply for a variance with itself.

They’re headed to do just that at the upcoming Board of Adjustment (BOA) meeting on Jan. 19.

The variance being applied for concerns having more than one free-standing sign. The property is question is the county-owned site that will be home to the, nearly complete, DE Turf sports complex just south of Frederica on Rt. 1. DE Turf’s ownership would like to obtain the right to place a sign near the entrance of the complex, but there is already one on the property.

“The sign contractor came in to get a permit to put the sign up, but when the staff looked at the property they saw that there was already a sign there,” said Mr. Petit de Mange. “We discussed it with Levy Court leadership and there is actually an interest in keeping that existing sign while adding the new one.”

The sign on the property was actually originally built on a code variance itself. It was applied for by a nearby church, who’s property it used to be on, added Mr. Petit de Mange. The church already had a sign announcing their establishment, but wanted another to post religious messages on. They were granted that variance, built it and used it for that purpose. However, the county later acquired the land parcel that the sign (but not the church) was on, and that land was lumped in to what would become DE Turf.

“That purchase predated the thought of the turf,” he said. “The county put a blind bid on it when it went up for sale because we were trying to eliminate any incompatibility with the area around the wastewater treatment plant, which is the same reason we own the property the turf is on.”

Not having any plans for the land at the time of the purchase, it seemed reasonable to lease the use of it out (rent-free) to help promote community events.

“We knew that the Kent County Tourism Board and Chamber of Commerce would periodically use advertisements on billboards to promote events, so we started allowing them to do that there on our sign around 2008,” said Mr. Petit de Mange. “They advertise things like Dover Days, the Wine and Beer Festival and Amish Country Bike Tour event — the Chamber advertises their 55+ Expo and a business and technology expo they do. The mayor of Milford talked to me recently about getting some of their events up there too.”

Since then, the Chamber and Tourism board have used the sign intermittently, and both claim that it has added significant traffic to their various events, he said. It’s for this reason the county hopes to retain the sign.

“It’s one of those things that we wouldn’t have done from scratch, but since we already have it and it works well, we are going to apply for a variance,” said Mr. Petit de Mange.

He also notes that because of the distance between the existing sign (at the north end of the property) and the proposed one (south end), he feels that they avoid a cluttered appearance that the code is in place to protect against.

The public hearing for the proposed variance will be held just like any other at the BOA’s next meeting.

“It’s just a bit unusual because my department is the regulatory arm who will get this variance through the process, but the county administration is the applicant,” said Ms. Kiefer.

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