Town of Smyrna greenlights Citizens’ Hose Company’s new sign

SMYRNA — The Board of Adjustment of the Town of Smyrna approved a variance Wednesday that will allow an electronic variable message sign to be installed at the Citizens’ Hose Co. building on West Commerce Street.

The variance was approved by a vote of three to zero, but only after a lengthy discussion about how the new signage will fit into the high visibility area.

“We’d like to replace the current sign we have located right off Delaware street,” said Citizens’ Hose Co. President Brooks Keen, who was presenting the proposal. “The existing sign is roughly 16 feet tall, it’s lit and has interchangeable letters. We’d like to replace that sign with an electronic message board.”

Mr. Keen went on to say that the new electronic sign, already purchased from Bowers Signs in Dover with a state grant, was roughly the same size as their old one.

The notable difference is that where the fire station now must climb a ladder and change letters manually on their sign, the new electric sign can be updated via laptop.

The Delaware Emergency Management Agency and the Smyrna Police would also have access to the sign for emergency alerts.

“The sign would be used for current events at the station, and will also be used for storm warning and public announcements,” said Mr. Keen.

It was on this point that contention with the idea first rose. Board of Adjustment member James Veit wanted to understand all the intended uses for the sign, asking if it would be used to advertise parties, bingo and other functions.

Mr. Keen noted that the sign would not be available for rental to anyone, however, it would be used to advertise Citizens’ Hose Co. related fundraising efforts.

““If it’s (a party or bingo) in the firehouse we will use the sign for that, yes,” said Mr. Keen. He also took the opportunity to remind the board that the funds raised by the fire station’s in-house efforts are so important because they considerably outweigh any funding that the station receives from the Town of Smyrna.

Mr. Veit also expressed concern over the fact that the sign would violate existing rules in the downtown area such as the requirement that signs be static, non-animated and not changing their display more than once every 15 minutes unless relating emergency information.

“You’re driving down the road, you don’t want anything flashing and distracting the drivers,” said Mr. Veit. “If someone crashes into each other because they were looking up at a sign, the fire station might end up being sued.”

Mr. Keen said that he was unaware of these restrictions until just recently, and that a personal survey of the downtown area had shown him that there were already about 11 signs in the downtown area that were violating these rules. Also, he had intended to have a fire animation on the sign, and have it change messages frequently.

“We’re the fire department, if I can’t have something up there that shows a flame on it, we just wasted $40,000,” he said.

Despite concerns, the application was unanimously approved and the Citizens’ Hose Co. will move forward with the placement of the new sign.
While casting his vote in favor of the variance, Board of Adjustment member Alan Robinson, who is also on the fire station’s board, was somewhat ruffled.

“I would like to add that we are dealing with the local ‘volunteer’ fire company here,” he said. “It receives a monthly stipend from the town, but at the end of the year the electricity they end up paying the town is more than they even get from the town.”

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